Printer Friendly

Metropolitan Songs and Songsters: Ephemerality in the World City.


THIS SPECIAL ISSUE ON "SONG AND THE CITY" ATTEMPTS TO OPEN UP THE category of song for the study of the Romantic period by detaching it from associations with bards and minstrels and placing it within an urban context. (1) One of our ambitions is to uncouple song from its near cognate, ballad--a term that has proven fertile ground for the discussion of literary Romanticism and its embrace of the popular, but one whose complex associations, including those of the popular itself, have become increasingly intractable. Our focus on song rather than ballads is, as we will discuss, partly an attempt to expand the purview of what gets included in discussions of popular literature, while also recognizing the global systems of commerce and imperialism that helped disseminate cultural products such as songs and other forms of literature. (2) The relationship of songs to these systems, the essays in this special issue will argue, constituted a distinctive aspect of metropolitan culture in the Romantic period.

By metropolitan we mean primarily London--and, as James Chandler and Kevin Gilmartin have pointed out, by the turn of the 19 th century, London was well established as a world city. In 1800 London housed nearly a million inhabitants, the largest city in Europe, with a population double that of Paris. In the next fifty years London's population doubled, despite death rates exceeding birth rates. It grew, that is, because of the vast movement of bodies to London from elsewhere. (1) What resulted was a new form of urban life, characterized by a fractious cosmopolitanism and a dizzying modernity. To contemporary writers, London was indescribable and cacophonous; a modern Babylon that was everywhere and nowhere. (4) While other urban contexts are important in the history of song--the capitals of Edinburgh and Dublin as well as industrial towns such as Birmingham, Manchester, and Sheffield--London was unique in that its cultural representations continually insisted on its worldliness. Romantic London was a city that defined itself through its contact with distant others.

London was also a city that understood itself through a particular relationship to song. Writers describing the metropolis defined the era as "this song singing Age." (5) People living there in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries recognized that they were part of a robust culture of song. Song emanated from churches, palaces, theaters, private drawing rooms, pleasure gardens, taverns, alehouses, brothels, boats, ships, carriages, markets, fairs, and streets. Until this basic fact has been more thoroughly digested, we cannot hope to fully understand what, for example, William Blake meant by naming his most famous collections "Songs of Innocence and Experience," or what John Keats meant by talking about his relationship with George Felton Matthew as a "Brotherhood in Song." Until we have apprehended the culture of song in the period, we cannot hope to understand any of the many references to poetry as song in the Romantic period, which have become so familiar as to be almost invisible. (6) Nor for that matter will we be able to fully appreciate the scenes of singing in the novels of Jane Austen or Frances Burney, or the social function of song as it appears in the countless comic afterpieces performed in London theaters, or--in a different mode--the riotous presence of song in works such as Pierce Egan's Life in London (1820).

In much scholarship of the period, particularly literary scholarship, song has tended to become subsumed into the category of ballad. And indeed, the relationship between the ballad and Romantic poetry has been the subject of frequent and lively interrogation, most notably with book-length studies by Steve Newman, and Maureen N. McLane devoted to the subject. (7) It has frequently been observed that the ballad, operating just outside the domain of the legitimately literary, has helped constitute the study of literature as a discipline, demarcating lines of inclusion and exclusion in often productive ways. Scholars have noted that Francis James Child, the first professor of English (as opposed to belles lettres) at Harvard, is best-known for his ballad scholarship, providing the numbering system by which the English and Scottish ballads that he collected are still known. Recently Florence Dore has also discussed how, in the 1930s Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks selected several Child Ballads, including "The Daemon Lover" (Child #243) and "Sir Patrick Spens" (Child #158) alongside poetry by John Donne, William Shakespeare, John Keats, and T. S. Eliot, in their bible of the New Criticism, Understanding Poetry* For Dore, this inclusion signaled a belief in the authenticity of older ballad forms inherited from Thomas Percy and Child. Thus, for literary study, ballads evoke what Susan Stewart described as the "entire aura of the oral world--such a world's imagined presence, immediacy, organicism, and authenticity.'"' By using the term song rather than ballad and by emphasizing the city, rather than the rural, remote, vernacular communities out of which ballads in the Percy-Child tradition are imagined to have emerged, we are then attempting to divorce song from its mythic organicism in order to emphasize a broader conception of Romantic-period song cultures, one rooted in the mediations of modernity, and print culture in particular.

Those scholars who have taken printed broadside ballads to be their object of study have frequently emphasized that ballads in print are commodities that attempt to turn a profit from the oral world. Printed ballads, from the black letter broadsides of the early modern period and continuing at least to the early twentieth century (arguably even to the artisan-produced letter press productions ot the twenty-first century), have most often been intended as commercial objects for urban communities. This set of associations, discussed by Meredith McGill as the ballad as "format," is equally problematic, in that it creates an alternative myth of the authenticity of the ballad, which is taken as properly belonging to the urban poor, especially by the early nineteenth century." (1) Printed ballads are often imagined as street ballads in the sense that they were heard sung about the street by ballad sellers, who attempted to hawk their cheaply produced slips to an urban popular audience associated primarily with lack of education, and even poverty, a vulgar audience that is typically imagined to lack the discrimination necessary to appreciate more elite kinds of poetry. The appeal of ballads to many scholars of the printed ballad of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is often that they give a voice to the voiceless. Ballads can be mined for the ideas and opinions of populations who do not appear elsewhere in print archives, and they can provide access to belief systems that are otherwise only discernible through the mediations of socially engaged but elite authors like Charles Dickens or Henry Mayhew. This alternative fantasy of authenticity, equally alluring but equally mythological, fails to take into account a number of important dimensions of ballads in print: the fact that ballads were rarely written or produced by the populations who were their primary target audience: the presence among ballad collections of printed slips with poems by Robert Burns, Thomas Moore, and Byron among others, which frustrates the strict division between elite poetry and popular ballads; the development in the nineteenth century of a considerable industry dedicated to supplying poorer populations with print matter in other formats besides the ballad, such as penny cyclopedias and penny dreadfuls; the paucity of reliable evidence about print runs, which makes the popularity of print ballads among urban communities difficult to assess; and the numerous references to ballads collected by the likes of James Boswell, Hannah More, and Samuel Pepys, suggesting that purchases were inspired by complex motivations beyond the ballads simply reflecting the tastes of the consumer.

By focusing on song rather than ballads, we hope to avoid some of the pitfalls associated with these two common myths of the ballad--often referred to by the shorthand "traditional" and "street" ballads--while simultaneously insisting on a performative and musical dimension to song. Most obviously, the term song is a more capacious category that includes things referred to as ballads, but broadens the horizon to encompass a wider variety of cultural products, including, but not limited to, concert performances of song, songs written for the theater, and printed song. And while this may initially seem to indicate a preference for more elite forms of song than is usually indicated by the term ballad, the essays that follow demonstrate the inadequacies of thinking about song along strictly class-based or socioeconomic lines. One thing that unites each of the essays in this issue is a sense of the productive indeterminacy and fluidity of song--the way that songs disturb spatial, political, and class boundaries. It is song's capacity to expose complex pathways of transmission and dissemination in both print and performance that this issue is intended to foreground, and this is perhaps best demonstrated through a consideration of the category of national song.

Contesting National Song

At least since the publication of Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765), one of the fascinations of song has been its seeming capacity to construct ideas about nationhood and to disseminate those constructions, but in ways that avoid the dominant narratives of the metropolis. Thus for Percy and other antiquarians writing in the eighteenth century, the appeal of the reliques they collected lay in their proximity to a lineage of bards and minstrels, who recorded ancient battles and provided insight into the way nations took shape but in a way that was significantly anterior to the civilizing manners of modernity. These songs displayed a "Romantic wildness" that pre-existed the modern nation and celebrated ways of life that would otherwise be lost to the commercial print marketplace." Even Joseph Ritson, who provided withering criticism of Percy's portrait of bardic minstrels and was much less hostile to the corruptions of the printing press, shared Percy's assumption that popular song could provide evidence of an authentic national heritage, as Dianne Dugaw has pointed out. (12) Following Percy's complex repackaging of ancient song, which proclaimed the decline of song for a modern audience more used to Enlightenment narratives of improvement, writers in geographical regions outside London, such as Charlotte Brooke, David Herd, and Walter Scott seized on the opportunity to record alternative histories of nations (with similarly complex and various motivations), that celebrated the glories of a past that was under threat, or indeed had been eradicated by colonial projects. These alternative histories have proven invaluable to modern scholars, particularly those working within postcolonial. four nations, and archipelagic frameworks of literary analysis, and many attempts to expand our boundaries beyond literary metropolitan culture have relied heavily on the work of these eighteenth- and nineteenth-century song collectors to articulate alternative modalities of literary expression beyond the dominant, canonical, and (presumed) metropolitan culture. It turns out, however, that these alternative forms of cultural expression were, more often than not, much admired within the metropolitan literary culture to which they ostensibly provided an alternative, thus challenging us to rethink the nature of the metropolis that we assumed we knew.

Two of the essays in this issue explicitly consider the importance ot London as a hub that brought local song cultures to the metropolis and vice versa. James Grande's essay focuses on Iolo Morganwg--a figure most often associated with Welsh bardic poetry--who appears here in the metropolitan context, joining the revolutionary debates of the Joseph Johnson circle, singing at radical meetings and tavern gatherings and creating a market for his bardic poetry in London. Isabel Corfe, meanwhile, traces the use of the phrase "Erin Go Bragh"--most often associated with the revolutionary project of the United Irishmen and the 1798 uprising--in the songs heard about the streets of London in the first half of the nineteenth century, considering how the phrase, at once familiar and foreign, would have registered within the metropolis. But these analyses don't stop there. Rather than simply considering the presence of the provincial within metropolitan culture, these essays, by taking song as the object of study, show how the circulation of song was bound up with negotiations of more complex systems of spatial and political belonging. Corfe, for example, considers a song with the title "Erin go Bragh" in which the narrator is accused of being Irish by a policeman, whom he then kills before narrowly avoiding the revenge of a gathering mob by escaping on a boat. As Corfe points out, the song ends with the narrator claiming he never took offense at being called Irish, suggesting that this is not a song about national discrimination, but a "narrative of cross-national and cross-regional solidarity" that foregrounds the narrator's "freedom to move across national boundaries ... [and commenting] upon the absurdities and constraints of national identity" (519). Underscoring this transnational message is the song's print history. The ballad was first printed in Scotland, but was then taken up with significant variations by the printer Thomas Birt who operated out of Seven Dials in London, so that the movement of the song's print history itself describes the transnational affiliations the song traces at the level of content.

Grande's discussion of Iolo Morganwg similarly attests to the complexities of national belonging, but on a different scale. After considering the Welsh bard in London, Grande traces Iolo's journey back to South Wales to produce around 3000 hymns and 300 hymn tunes for the tiny Welsh-speaking Unitarian community which he helped to found, deliberately avoiding any potential contamination from the metropolitan literary marketplace. Iolo also became one of the first collectors of Welsh folk song, and had begun work on a "History of the Bards," whose notes reveal his belief that the similarities between a tune that could be found in Welsh, English, Native American, and Indian music traditions could be explained by the exploration of Europeans to various parts of the world and were thus bound up in the logics of colonialist expansion.

In her essay in this issue on John Braham and "The Death of Nelson"

Susan Rutherford raises a different issue in regard to the circulation of "National Song": the idea that in the nineteenth century the term national airs often designated Irish, Scottish, and Welsh tunes in opposition to an English culture of song in general and metropolitan culture more specifically. (13) As Rutherford's essay demonstrates, "The Death of Nelson"-a song with unquestionable ties to metropolitan culture, originating in the ballad opera The Americans, first performed at the Lyceum in 1811--was frequently described in the early nineteenth century as a British national song. For Rutherford, this national song shapes the cityscape of London in a particularly concrete way, being one of the inspirations behind the erection of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, and providing perhaps the defining popularization of Nelson's signal "England Expects that every man this day will do his duty," a version of which is inscribed on John Carew's bas-relief, called "The Death of Nelson," affixed to the bottom of the column. Rutherford takes this conjunction of song and column as an opportunity to consider whether Braham's song might itself might be considered a "monument," a question that immediately foregrounds the difference between the fixed structure and what she calls the "fluid, temporal evocation" of the song (526). This obvious difference, however, masks the more profound role that music and physical structure together play in the creation of the metropolitan experience, once more directing our attention to the way that song as a category resists containment within its formal properties.

While this issue includes essays on English, Welsh, and Irish song, readers will note that other parts of the Anglophone world, including America, Australia, and Scotland are underrepresented. This is entirely for practical reasons and certainly does not reflect a lack of importance of song from these geographical regions, either in the transnational mixture of songs in London itself or in the broader global pathways for which London operated as a hub. It is worth emphasizing, however, that our approach, though at times reliant on nationhood because of its importance in the period, avoids thinking of nation as a determining concept, attempting instead to understand the transmission and circulation of song beyond and between national boundaries. Consistently in the essays that follow, songs are revealed to be forms of expression that refuse to be confined to national borders. Partly, this is because as works that are performed as well as printed, they lend themselves to adaptation and aspire to maximum transmission; partly, their uncontainability can be accounted for because they are bound up with the pathways of global exploration and commerce, systems which are inflected by, though not identical with, the logics of empire. This is perhaps seen most clearly in Oskar Cox Jensen's contribution to this issue, which focuses on the remarkable ballad singer Joseph Johnson. Johnson was a well-known figure on the streets of London in the early nineteenth century, instantly recognizable by his extraordinary hat which was decorated by a brig, which Johnson made to bob and weave as if to the waves as he sang George Alexander Stevens's song, "The Storm." Johnson was black and disabled, and modern scholars have been quick to associate his race, disability, and the vessel on his head with the slave trade, arguing that the spectacle of his hat confronted Londoners with a potent symbol of otherness. But Cox Jensen nuances this identification, pointing out that Johnson's costume was not a slave ship but a brig, and that Johnson himself was an ex-sailor, not an ex-slave. Instead Cox Jensen looks to other possible significations, including the Jamaican practice of Jonkonnu, and the elaborate headwear worn by fashionable aristocrats at the court of Versailles. The point is not to deny Johnson's otherness, but to suggest that this is interwoven with alternative forms of affiliation in a city constituted by the global circulation of goods and persons, as suggested by his address to the "brother sailors" in his signature song.

Throughout the essays that follow what is striking is both the omnipresence of song in the Romantic period and the remarkable reach that songs possessed. With their global circulation songs trace a complexly networked international field of cultural transmission. But what is equally striking is that despite their global reach, very few of the songs considered here are familiar to us today. Unlike the national airs that have been the primary focus of scholarship on traditional ballads, many of the urban songs under consideration here flourish for a brief period, then disappear, a fact that forces us to address another crucial dimension of song: its ephemerality.


The study of song cultures confronts similar kinds of conceptual and methodological problems to those of other fields dealing with varieties of performance, such as music in general, drama, dance, as well as theatricality and sociability: that is, how can we properly objectify and analyze performances or occasions of social interaction that are apparently unreproducible? In other words, how can we know what truly happened in a particular performance or a sociable gathering in a particular place, the substance of which must be irrevocably lost or dead to posterity? The term frequently used in performance studies to describe this challenge is "ephemeral," as in, tor example, Peggy Phelan's claim in Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (1993) that "defined by its ephemeral nature, performance art cannot be documented (when it is, it turns into that document--a photograph, a stage design, a video tape--and ceases to be performance art)." (14) Phelan's view has been contested by, most notably, Rebecca Schneider and Diana Taylor, the latter arguing that performance doesn't disappear but becomes part of an alternative archive she calls the repertoire: "the ways peoples produce and transmit knowledge through embodied action." (15) The repertoire, according to Taylor, is a form of ongoing memory work, whereby what is created by performance in a specific time and place becomes culturally embedded in memory and behaviors and is thereby theoretically accessible, if not always practically and consciously, and thus capable of being re-enacted and renewed. As the location of many kinds of performances, communicating with other places of song, both urban and rural, in the British Isles and the empire, the Romantic metropolis was a particularly vibrant and dense memory site in which the repertoire constituted by song was present and constantly being renewed.

While invested in the ephemeral, performance studies scholars take the meaning of the term as a given and do not interrogate it in its own right. Derived from the Greek "epi"--around, at--and "hemera"--a day--the use of ephemeral to mean something that quickly lives and dies and lacks intrinsic, enduring value, only gained wider currency in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as a response primarily to how the print media after the late seventeenth century was able to document the diversity of social, especially quotidian, experience."' Media such as newspapers, handbills, playbills, posters, and the popular print, facilitated theatrical and musical entertainments and proliferating modes of sociability, as well as constituting a record of such events and the affective investments in them. While inadequate in comparison with later electronic means of recording, these forms of print nonetheless represent a kind of reproduction or preservation of the specific eventfulness of a concert, a theatrical performance, a ball, or a political meeting, if not the actual event itself. Such documents themselves became classified as ephemera, meaning, to use Maurice Rickards's frequently-cited definition, "the minor transient documents of everyday life." (17) "Ephemera" became increasingly used in the nineteenth century to distinguish the impermanence of this kind of print (and the everyday life which it documented) from the superior status of the codex-form book as vehicle for the dissemination and preservation of knowledge for the long term. (18) Printed ephemera, such as newspapers, playbills, and tickets--the archival bedrock of theater history, as Jacky Bratton and others have shown--thus acted as a mediating element between the absolute ephemerality of the performance event itself and more "permanent" historical and literary records. (1) '' Printed ephemera exemplifies how, as Rebecca Schneider suggests, the archive "performs the equation of performance with disappearance, even as it perforins the service of 'saving,' " to the extent of such ephemera having the potential to be lost in, or re-absorbed by the momentariness of the performance or the occasion to which it is related, hence the fact that though many playbills survive in libraries and archives they are often uncatalogued and invisible. (20)

The discourse of the ephemeral in performance studies thus raises fundamental questions about the ontology and epistemology of performance, and about mediality itself, that are also relevant to the study of song. Like drama and poetry, and unlike, for example, the novel, song is a form of human vocal expression that probably predates writing and especially the invention of movable type in the fifteenth century. Song is part of a repertoire of vocal expression--informal and formal, individual and collective-the voice itself being a kind of medium in its own right. (21) What we sing (or say or make noises about) disappears (unless electronically recorded), but can also be said to remain as part of the repertoire or memory of our physical, affective, and collective life (such as, for example, singing at a football match evokes other similar occasions in ways that can have both personal and social or communal meaning). Song became formalized, ritualized, and codified in myriad ways: as part of religious observance and ceremony, in public and private modes of sociability, in the reified contexts of theater and opera, and as stimulus to work or battle. At the same time, song and poetry crossed over to inform, in mutually constitutive ways, the genre of the lyric poem." Even when in print, however, or firmly cemented within the literary canon, a song is never truly dead or voiceless. It always signifies a potential for words to be sung, meaning that the label of song, whether applied to a poem or a song performed in the theaters, pleasure gardens, taverns, or parlour rooms, always has a potential for intermediality--in so far as it brings together the medium of print and the medium of voice, both specifically (in reference to singing at Drury Lane or Marylebone Gardens, for example) and universally (we all can sing).

The relationship between print-based literary culture and the oral cultures of the popular ballad (whether rustic or urban, traditional or street) maps on to, and was indeed constituted by the discourse of ephemerality that developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The broadside ballad in particular was a key ephemeral print genre, distinct from the identification of enduring literary value with the format of the codex-form book. It is increasingly recognized, however, that the ballad is primarily an artefact of print culture; that the broadside publication of ballads does not necessarily represent the suppression of an authentic oral tradition by the modernizing forces of print and hegemonic cultures; and that the persistent dichotomy of orality and print needs to be reimagined in terms of interrelated and interacting varieties of media.- (23) Indeed, Paula McDowell has recently argued that the "modern intellectual category of 'oral culture'" more broadly should be reimagined as a product of the rise of print.- (24) In so far as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century culture was saturated by print in all its forms, ephemera such as tickets or playbills penetrated the "structures of feeling" underpinning sociality, so that print in turn osmotically absorbed the contexts in which it was circulated. Ephemeral print in particular bore the traces or residues of performances, of bodies and voices that were immediate for contemporary men and women, but have inevitably become lost to us. (25) Print is an imperfect recording mechanism, but if we look closely enough, the voices of song can still be perceived, albeit faintly.

Song in Print

While the ballad is a slippery concept, song as a cultural category, while arguably helpfully capacious, is even more imprecise. Songs do not have clearly identifiable formal features: indeed, if we define the ballad as a subset of the genre of song, we must also recognize the many alternative varieties, including hymns and psalms, political songs (of all hues), bawdy songs (both popular and elite), convivial songs, national songs, patriotic songs, and so on. (26) The Universal Songster; Or, Museum of Mirth, first published in 1825, with illustrative woodcuts by George and Robert Cruikshank, included on its title page a list of the various categories of song: "Ancient, amatory, bacchanalian, comic, (English), Dibdins', Miscellaneous, Duets, Trios, Glees, Chorusses, Irish, Jews, Masonic, Military, Naval, Scotch, Sentimental, Sporting, Welsh, Yorkshire, &C." (27)

Songs were printed in two main ways: by printing from formes of movable type (letterpress) and by intaglio processes, based on printing from plates produced by engraving on copper. (28) The latter was particularly associated with music publishing: the production of scores or songbooks with both words and musical notation. The introduction in the late seventeenth century of softer pewter rather than copper plates for music engravings enabled notation to be produced more easily but music publishing by intaglio processes was always more labor-intensive and expensive than letterpress printing. (29) A distinction was created between these two publishing media for music, engraving being associated with musical notation and more privileged social groups who could both read music and buy the expensive products of the music sellers, while publication of songs in letterpress form relied on music as repertoire, something that was already known by readers who could apply it to the words before them. Complicating this distinction is the development in the late eighteenth century of elegantly engraved song sheets, sometimes known as drolls, that combined the words to songs with illustrative engravings, published by printers such as Laurie and Whittle, and Carrington Bowles (see fig. 2 of Oskar Cox Jensen's essay in this issue for an example). These engraved songs contained no musical score, but offered the words to songs taken from the theater and pleasure gardens, often printing songs that could also be found in letterpress printings.

There are undeniable frustrations associated with the lack of musical score for many letterpress songs--often tunes are not named, and even when a letterpress song indicates "to the tune of Derry Down," for example, it is unclear which of the several tunes referred to as "Derry Down" the printer had in mind. But the presence of musical notation is considerably less helpful than one might imagine. Standard musical notation was developed primarily as a means of recording music within the Western classical tradition, and frequently does a poor job of providing the sorts of information about performance style that are central to other musical traditions, and that depend more on the kinds of person-to-person contact associated with the repertoire. A Western stave with its time signature, key signature, and clef might be able to provide the basic contours of a melody, but it is rarely able to trace the complex ornamentations and speed, volume, timbre, and emphasis variations through which popular traditions often distinguish themselves, and which are necessarily felt responses to the contexts of performance, and not amenable to inscription in print."' Letterpress songs were in some ways more suited to the fluid nature of popular performance traditions (you could, for example, choose your own tune to set the words to), but they were also cheaper than intaglio-printed music, and were often produced by printers and booksellers who were not primarily known as music sellers. Thus, they circulated in a different context, that is the diversity of letterpress print as a whole.

Songs appeared as letterpress in two main formats: individually, as single sheets, or in collections known as songsters. Over the course of the eighteenth century, considerable changes occurred to the printing of letterpress songs, often corresponding to changes in musical taste. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the most common form of letterpress song was the garland: songs printed on a single side of a sheet in four or five columns, sometimes broken up with woodcut images. These were often closely related to the "black letter" ballads of the seventeenth century, although with more modern typographical conventions. By the end of the eighteenth century few ballads were printed this way, and slip songs were much more common. These were songs that were printed in multiple copies on a single sheet of paper that was then cut up into elongated strips of paper, or slips, thereby economizing on publication costs. Many of these flimsy single sheet songs would have been truly ephemeral and do not survive, though as early as the seventeenth century antiquarians interested in contemporary culture were collecting and preserving them. An example is the Romantic-period bibliophile Richard Heber (1773-1833) who possessed "An Exact Collection of the newest, and most delightful Songs sung at Court, and both the Theatres, with the Musicks," collected by one "J. H.," to which Heber added a note: "This volume consists of three different collections of popular song which came out in 1681 and 1683." (31)

Many of the texts of these single sheet songs were also published in the form of anthologies known as songsters. In a study that discusses nineteenth-century songsters from Britain, Ireland, Australia, and the United States, Paul Watt, Derek Scott, and Patrick Spedding note that songsters were "pocket-sized anthologies of popular song" that were "cheap, printed in large numbers and distributed far and wide." (32) The true extent of songster publication is difficult to calculate: Watt, Scott, and Spedding provide lists of around 130 songsters, and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online registers 198 publications with "songster" in the title. But this is likely only a small subset of the many thousands of songsters that were published throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and which--in the British context at least--have yet to be systematically documented, indeed may very well be impossible to document. (33) The earliest songster listed on ECCO is a pamphlet published in Dublin in 1714, entitled Bo-Peep, A Dialogue between Bob Byass, ... and Sam George a Country Gentleman. Together with two Merry Songs, one by Grig Lyrick, Songster to the late Chief Praefect Hocus, the other by a News-boy. (34) "Songster," as in this case, could mean a person (or a bird) who sang, indicating the intermedia] aspects of the songster as a genre of publication that approximated singing itself. The expansion and related commercialization of modes of sociability, particularly after 1750, in venues such as the pleasure gardens, assembly and concert rooms, taverns, as well as informally in town and country houses-for example, in the craze for private theatricals--increased the market for the printed songster as a record of the 'hits' of the day and a stimulus to music-making. One printer who seems to have specialized in songsters was J. Pridden of the Feathers, Fleet-Street, who produced The Apollo; Or the Muse's Choice; being a Collection of the most Celebrated New Songs Sung at Ranelagh, Vauxhall, Marybone Gardens (1759); The London Polite Songster: Or, The Vauxhall and Ranelagh Annual Delight for the Year 1761 (1761); The London and Edinburgh Polite Songster (1763); and The Muse's Delight: Or, The Loudon Polite Songster (1766). Pridden's newspaper advertisement for The London and Edinburgh Polite Songster declared that "[g]reat care has been taken to omit all obscene Songs in this Collection, which renders it a cheerful Companion for the Ladies as well as Gentlemen." (35) In spite of Pridden's appeal to propriety, the songster was particularly associated with male homosociality, the singing that was part of dining, drinking, and toasting rituals in the coffeehouses, taverns, and clubs of London and the Anglophone world as a whole. (36) Masonic sociability in the eighteenth century was particularly convivial and a number of songsters catered to the custom of singing after lodge business, to which professional musicians were sometimes invited: as we have seen, "Masonic" was included as one of the categories of song in The Universal Songster, which also highlights the identification of songs and singing with male homosociality."

A counterpart of this development, with which it intersected in key ways, was the development of the public sphere of feminized fashionable sociability, elaborated in venues such as Teresa Cornelys's Carlisle House, Soho, or the Pantheon in Oxford Street, also important sites for music-making. But the most significant venues for mixed-gender sociability, mediating between the male-dominated worlds of the coffeehouse, tavern, and club, and the more feminized spaces of the assembly rooms, were the pleasure gardens, most notably Vauxhall and Ranelagh, but also Marylebone, Cuper's Gardens, Sadler's Wells, and numerous other, more suburban, tea gardens. (38) The distinctive feature of these venues was the combination of indoor and outdoor space, the voices of singers often echoing the birdsong in the surrounding trees and air. As David Coke and Alan Borg show, Vauxhall Gardens became associated with a hybrid song genre--the Vauxhall song--that combined elements of courtly song, the theatrical interlude, the English pastoral and ballad tradition, and Italian opera. (39) The first Vauxhall songbook, consisting of the words and music of eighteen "new ballads" by Thomas Arne, appeared in 1745. Engraved by the music seller William Smith, this volume cost an expensive six shillings, but pleasure garden songs also circulated widely in cheaper letterpress formats, and were often included in periodicals aimed at female readers. (40) As Coke and Borg note, the "pleasure garden song enjoyed constant popularity for a hundred years and more, and was a close relative of the music-hall song of the nineteenth century." (41)

The eighteenth-century songster has received little attention from musicologists or cultural and social historians partly on account of, we would suggest, its proximity to singing as performance. Watt. Scott, and Spedding's Cheap Print and Popular Song in the Nineteenth Century identifies the songster as a form of street literature, peddled by hawkers and associated with the lower orders. This identification neglects precedents in the previous century that were aimed at a broader clientele: Pridden's volumes, for example, sold for 2 shillings "bound in red." (42) The songster-book draws attention to a category of song and of song-making that has tended to be elided by, on the one hand, the focus on the ballad as primarily street literature and, on the other, music history's emphasis on the evolution of more elite forms of music-making such as opera and orchestral music. There were numerous songs to be heard and read in eighteenth-century Britain that were designed for the tastes and pockets of all classes--but primarily the middling orders--that would be bought as slip songs for a halfpenny, as compilations of songs in songsters, or in more expensive engraved sheets or books with "the musicks." They were "popular," as Heber noted of his late-seventeenth-century collection, not simply in the sense of representing the tastes of the people, but because they had achieved recognition and success (including commercial success). Audiences had liked and enjoyed them and they had become part of the production and transmission of knowledge through embodied action that Taylor calls "the repertoire."

Evocative of actual voices and occasions of sociability when singing occurred, the songster could anticipate a performance, serving as a resource of songs to which individuals or groups could turn--let's sing that one--as well as enabling the recall of other times when those songs had been sung and the voices who had sung them. A songster such as The London Polite Songster: Or, The Vauxhall and Ranelagh Annual Delight for the Year 1761, representing the 'hits' of 1761 (anticipating annual compilations of pop hits such as "Now That's What I Call Music"), served as a way of marking the immediacy of the times, like other forms of print media such as the journal or almanac. The songster thus needs to be categorized with print media such as the newspaper, ticket, or playbill, rather than with more literary genres such as the poetry anthology, because of its intrinsic relationship to the performance event, whether real or imagined, of singing. The songster was capable of being both a kind of recording device and long-playing record: in other words, it was a book that could sing.

Of the several songsters mentioned in the essays that follow, of particular note are those discussed by Leith Davis in her article on the songs of Astley's Amphitheatre. Best known for its displays of equestrian feats, Astley's also featured a considerable quantity of musical entertainment and gave song an increasing prominence on its bill of fire, especially after the opening of the Royal Circus, with which Astley's was in direct competition, and which could boast the song-writing talents of Charles Dibdin, a co-owner and manager of the venture. Davis notes that the songs that were performed at Astley's, which otherwise might be lost to posterity, enjoyed a considerable afterlife in print, having been recorded both in engraved print formats and in letterpress prints, most notably as songsters. Songsters, Davis points out, "performed an important role in the networks of song culture in the Romantic era ... [they] collected a wide variety of materials in one volume aiming to deliver the greatest number and variety of songs to the consumer for the least amount of money" (470). Here we confront head-on the complex ontology of song in the period: songs were designed for particular performances in particular places, but aspired to repeat performances elsewhere; they were cultural productions that depended on performance, but owe their continued existence to print; they aspired to wide dissemination, but can be characterized by their ephemerality. Song as a category was part of the very texture of existence in the period. and yet individual songs are elusive, resisting our abilities to capture them adequately. These are the challenges that the following essays confront. challenges which take us to the very heart of the paradoxes of attempting to describe historical cultural production. But in their different ways each of the contributors to this issue demonstrates that very far from being a futile endeavor, a careful, determined, and flexible approach to song yields rich and satisfying rewards.

Ian Newman, University of Notre Dame Gillian Russell, University of York


The Annual Harmony, or the Convivial Companion. N.p., 1789.

Applegate, Celia. "How German Is It? Nationalism and the Idea of Serious Music in the Early Nineteenth Century." Nineteenth-Century Music 21, no. 3 (Spring 1998): 274-96.

Bibliotheca Heberiana. Catalogue of the Library of the Late Richard Heher, Esq. Part the Fourth. London: Evans, 1834.

Bo-Peep, A Dialogue between Bob Byass, ... and Sam George a Country Gentleman. Together with two Merry Songs, one by Grig Lyrick, Songster to the late Chief Praefect Hocus, the other by a News-boy. Dublin. 1714-15.

Bratton, Jacky. New Readings in Theatre History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Chandler, James, and Kevin Gilmartin. "Introduction: Engaging the Eidometropolis." In Romantic Metropolis: The Urban Scene of British Culture, 1780-1840, edited by James Chandler and Kevin Gilmartin, 1-41. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Coke, David, and Alan Borg. Vauxhall Gardens: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.

Culler, Jonathan. Theory of the Lyric. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Dart, Gregory. Metropolitan Art and Literature, 1810-1840: Cockney Adventures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Davis. Leith. "Charlotte Brooke's Reliques of Irish Poetry: Eighteenthcentury 'Irish Song' and the Politics of Remediation." In United Islands? The Languages of Resistance, edited by John Kirk, Andrew Noble, and Michael Brown, 95-108. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012.

Dillon, Elizabeth Maddock. New World Dramas: The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1640-1849. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

Dore, Florence. Novel Sounds: Southern Fiction in the Age of Rock and Roll. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018.

Dugaw, Dianne. The Anglo-American Ballad: A Folklore Casebook. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1995.

Fox, Celia, ed. London--World City 1800-1840. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Guillory, John. "Genesis of the Media Concept." Critical Inquiry 36, no. 2 (2010): 321-62.

Gustafson, Sandra M. Eloquence is Power: Oratory and Performance in Early America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Hoagwood, Terence. From Song to Print: Romantic Pseudo-Songs. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Horgan, Kate. The Politics of Songs in Eighteenth-Century Britain, 1723-1795 London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014.

Hudson, Graham. The Design and Printing of Ephemera in Britain and America, 1720-1820. London: The British Library, 2008.

Hunter, David. "Music." In The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Volume V 160,5-1830, edited by Michael F. Suarez, S. J., and Michael L. Turner, 750-61. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Keller, Robert. Early American Songsters, 1734-1820. Anapolis, MD: Colonial Music Institute, 2009.

Langan, Celeste. "Scotch Drink and Irish Harps: Mediations of the National Air." In The Figure of Music in Nineteenth-Century British Poetry, edited by Phyllis Weliver, 25-49. -Burlington: Ashgate, 2005.

Looby, Christopher. Voicing America: Language, Literary Form, and the Origins of the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Lowens, Irving. A Bibliography of Songsters Printed in America before 1821. Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1976.

McCue, Kirsteen. "The Culture of Song." In The Oxford Handbook of British Romanticism, edited by David Duff, 643-57. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

McDowell, Paula. The Invention of the Oral: Print Commerce and Fugitive Voices in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

McGill, Meredith. "What is A Ballad? Reading for Genre, Format, and Medium." Nineteenth-Century Literature 71, no. 2 (2016): 156-75.

McLane, Maureen. Balladeering Minstrelsy and the Making of British Romantic Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

McVeigh, Simon. "Freemasonry and Musical Life in London in the Late Eighteenth Century." In Music in Eighteenth-Century Britain, edited by David Wyn Jones, 72-100. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000.

Muhoz, Jose Esteban. "Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts." Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory 8, no. 2 (1996): 5-16.

Newman, Ian. The Romantic Tavern: Literature and Conviviality in the Age of Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Newman, Steve. Ballad Collection, Lyric and the Canon: The Call of the Popular from the Restoration to the New Criticism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.

Percy, Thomas. "On Ancient Minstrels." In Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, edited by Henry Wheatley, 345-81. 3 vols. London: S. Sonnenschein and Co., 1891.

Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London: Routledge, 1993.

Raven, James. Publishing Business in Eighteenth-Century England. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2014.

Rickards, Maurice. Collecting Printed Ephemera. Oxford: Phaidon/Christie's, 1988.

Russell, Gillian. The Ephemeral Eighteenth Century: Sociability, Print and the Cultures of Collecting. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

Schneider, Rebecca. Reforming Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment. London: Routledge, 2011.

Stewart, Susan. Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation. Durham: Duke University Press, 1994.

Taylor, Diana. The Archive and Peiformance: Reforming Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

The Universal Songster: Or, Museum of.Mirth. 3 vols. London: John Fairburn, et al.: 1825.

Watt, Paul, Derek Scott, and Patrick Speckling, eds. Cheap Prim and Popular Song in the Nineteenth Century: A Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2016.

Wroth, Warwick. The London Pleasure Gardens of the Eighteenth Century. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1896.

(1.) The development of the essays included in this special issue benefited from a workshop-style symposium held by the ERC-funded "Music in London 1800-1851" project. The contributors are extremely grateful to the ERC, the project's principal investigator Roger Parker, and all the participants in the workshop.

(2.) For a useful discussion of the category of song in Romantic-period literary culture, see Kirsteen McCue, "The Culture of Song." in The Oxford Handbook of British Romanticism, ed. David Duff (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

(3.) Chandler and Gilmartin. "Introduction: Engaging the Eidometropolis." in Romantic

Metropolis: The Urban Scene of British Culture, 1780-1840, ed. Chandler and Gilmartin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 2. See also Celina Fox, ed., London--World City 1800-1840 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).

(4.) For London as the Modern Babylon see Gregory Dart, Metropolitan Art and Literature, 1810-1840: Cockney Adventures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). 148, 163.

(5.) "Introductory Song," in The Annual Harmony, or the Convivial Companion (N.p., 17X9), quoted in Leith Davis, "Between Archive and Repertoire" in this issue.

(6.) For an important exception see Terence Hoagwood, From Song to Print: Romantic Pscudo-Songs (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

(7.) Newman. Ballad Collection, Lyric and the Canon: The Call of the Popular from the Resloration to the New Criticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2007); McLane, Ballaieering Minstrelsy and the Making of British Romantic Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 200S).

(8.) Dore, Novel Sounds: Southern Fiction in the Age of Rock and Roll (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 19-21.

(9.) Stewart, Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation (Durham: Duke University Press, 1004), 104.

(10.) McGill, "What is A Ballad? Reading for Genre, Format, and Medium." Nineteenth-Century Literature 71, no. 2 (2016): 163-68.

(11.) The phrase "Romantic wildness" was used by Thomas Percy in his essay "On Ancient Minstrels" to distinguish older ballads from modern versions which, as he saw it, had been degraded by exposure to the printing press (Percy, "On Ancient Minstrels," in Rdiques of Ancient English Poetry, ed. Henry Wheatley [London: S. Sonnenschein and Co.. 1891], 1:380).

(12.) Dugaw, The Anglo-American Ballad: A Folklore Casebook (New York: Garland Publishing, 1995), 23.

(13.) The idea that national airs were first identified against metropolitan culture has been discussed in the German context by Celia Applegate. and has since been used to discuss the British context by Celeste Langan. See Applegate, "How German Is It? Nationalism and the Idea of Serious Music in the Early Nineteenth Century," Nineteenth Century Music 21, no. 3 (Spring 1998): 275; and Langan, "Scotch Drink and Irish Harps: Mediations of the National Air." in The Figure of Musk in Nineteenth-Century British Poetry, ed. Phyllis Weliver (Burlington: Ashgate. 2005), 25NI.

(14.) Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledgc, 1993), 31.

(15.) Taylor. The Archive and Performance: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003). 24.

(16.) See James Raven's discussion of jobbing print in Publishing Business in Eighteenth-Century England (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. 2014), 4-7. 73-79.

(17.) Rickards, Collecting Printed Ephemera (Oxford: Phaidon/Christie's, 1988), 7.

(18.) For a more detailed consideration of ephemera see Gillian Russell, The Ephemera} Eighteenth Century: Sociability, Prim and the Cultures of Collecting (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

(19.) Bratton, New Readings in Theatre History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

(20.) Schneider, Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactntent (London: Routledge, 2011), 99.

(21.) In physiological terms, in that the vocal chords function as a means of creating the sound ot singing, and expressively, in that that sound is capable of communication: for an account of the historical and philosophical complexity of medium and media see John Guillory. "Genesis of the Media Concept," Critical Inquiry 36, no. 2 (2010): 321-62.

(22.) For example, see Jonathan Culler, Theory of the Lyric (Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Press, 2015).

(23.) The dichotomy of orality and print has been frequently questioned elsewhere, notably in the robust debates about the role that vocal performance played in the construction of public authority in early America. See for example, Christopher Looby, Voicing America: Language, Literary Form, and the Origins of the United Stores (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

1998), and Sandra M. Gustafson, Eloquence is Power: Oratory and Performance in Early America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 2000). More recently, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon has proposed "performative commons" as an alternative model to the public sphere. foregrounding the role theatrical and political performance played in the construction of nation, empire, and the institution of slavery throughout the Atlantic world (Dillon. New World Dramas: The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1649-1840 [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014]).

(24.) McDowell, The Invention of the Oral: Print Commerce and Fugitive Voices in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 3.

(25.) For an influential article linking performance, ephemera, and affect in these terms, see Jose Esteban Munoz, "Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts." Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory 8, no. 2 (1996): 5-16,

(26.) For an excellent discussion of the category of the political song, and songs in general, see Kate Horgan, The Politics of Songs in Eighteenth-Century Britain, 1723-1795 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014).

(27.) Cruikshank and Cruikshank, The Universal Songster; Or, Museum of Mirth (London: John Fairburn, et al. 1825), I: title page.

(28.) For an account of intaglio printing processes see Graham Hudson. The Design and Printing of Ephemera in Britain anil America, 1720-1820 (London: The British Library, 2008), 14.

(29.) See David Hunter. "Music." in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain. Volume V 1695-1830, ed. Michael F. Suarez, S. J., and Michael L. Turner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 750-61, 759.

(30.) See, for example Leith Davis's discussion of William Beauford's attempt to render Irish caoinan music legible to a Western audience (Davis, "Charlotte Brooke's Retinites of Irish Poetry: Eighteenth-century 'Irish Song' and the Politics of Remediation," in (United Islands? The Languages of Resistance, ed. John Kirk. Andrew Noble, and Michael Brown [London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012], 95-108, 101).

(31.) Bibliotheca Heberiana. Catalogue of the Library of the Late Richard Heber, Esq. Part the Fourth (London: Evans, 1S34), 2X3.

(32.) Watt, Scott, and Spedding. eds., Cheap Prim and Popular Song in the Nineteenth Century: A Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 1.

(33.) The case is slightly different in the US which has benefited from Irving Lovvens's and Robert Keller's exhaustive documenting of the phenomenon. See Lowens, A Bibliography of Songsters Printed in America before 1821 (Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1976), and Keller, Early American Songsters, 1734-1820 (Anapolis, ML): Colonial Music Institute, 2009).

(34.) Bo-Peep, A Dialogue between Bob Byass, ... and Sam George a Country Gentleman. Together with two Merry Songs, one by Grig Lyrick, Songster to the late Chief Praefect Hocus, the other by a News-boy (Dublin: [1714-15]).

(35.) Pridden, Public Advertiser, June 3, 1763.

(36.) See Ian Newman, The Romantic Tavern: Literature and Conviviality in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 24-28, 146-48.

(37.) See Simon McVeigh, "Freemasonry and Musical Life m London in the Late Eighteenth Century," in Music in Eighteenth-Century Britain, ed. David Wyn Jones (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000).

(38.) For a still useful account of London pleasure gardens see Warwick Wroth, The London Pleasure Gardens of the Eighteenth Country (London: MacmiUan and Co. Ltd., 1S96).

(39.) Coke and Borg, Vauxhall Gardens: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 201 1), 156.

(40.) Coke and Borg, Vauxhall Gordons, 155, 161.

(41.) Coke and Borg, Vauxhall Gordons, 161.

(42.) Pridden, Public Advertiser, October 13, 1761.
COPYRIGHT 2019 Boston University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2019 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Date:Dec 22, 2019
Previous Article:Bo Earle. Post-Personal Romanticism: Democratic Terror, Prosthetic Poetics, and the Comedy of Modern Ethical Life.
Next Article:Between Archive and Repertoire: Astley's Amphitheatre, Early Circus, and Romantic-Era Song Culture.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters