Literary Minstrelsy: the Books Trump the Scores!

2018-11-07 14.13.56I’m still sorting through my notes after my research field trip to Dublin a couple of weeks ago.  I may have mentioned that I went armed with a list of national music compilations from the Georgian era (and a little beyond), to see if either King’s Inns Library or Trinity College Dublin Library had retained any such volumes during the 1801-1836 legal deposit era.  (Neither received legal deposit materials before the Act of Union, and King’s Inns lost their entitlement after 1836, though Trinity retains it to this day.)

I already knew that King’s Inns had a handful of national songs, some musical (“songs with their airs”, as Georgian musicians would have said) – and some purely literary, such as Allan Cunningham’s Songs of Scotland (1825) – I alluded to it in my book, Our Ancient National Airs.

I also knew that Trinity College Dublin had instructed their agent NOT to supply music, novels or school-books, from 1817 onwards, and my opposite number in the library had warned me that there was very little music from the Georgian or even early Victorian era.  Indeed, the earliest extant lists of legal deposit music there date from 1859-1860.

So, I knew I was probably just going to prove to myself that there really wasn’t much legal deposit music in Dublin at this time, and indeed, that it was hard to identify anything as positively having come from Stationers’ Hall.  The rest of today’s posting will confirm just that!

  • In 1811, Stationers’ Hall music was being put “into MS Room in the press in the N.W. angle”, having previously been lying in the Library Room. (From Peter Fox’s book, Trinity College Library Dublin: a History (2014), I know that the Manuscript Room would have been the new MS room on the first floor, converted between 1802-1803.)
  • I found the same in July 1815, when music was sent from Stationers’ Hall in parcels. It went into the same press (ie cupboard).  However, other materials were left on the table in the MS Room “until a list of them could be made out and entered in this book”.  Clearly, no-one was planning to list the music!
  • By July 1817, their agent had been advised to send no music, novels or school books.

We know from the minutes that materials arrrived in baskets, bundles and chests, delivered to a Dr Nash.  Dr Nash was an assistant librarian in the previous decade, and had other roles by 1810 and 1820, but perhaps he also kept an involvement with the library even when he was otherwise occupied.  We don’t really need to know much more about him, anyway!

From comments in 1817, we see that on at least one occasion, the materials arrived in cases from “Mr Elliot’s men” without a list, and at least once the materials arrived damaged and irreparable.  (In 1821, Edinburgh appointed the same Mr Elliot as agent – St Andrews strongly objected, as is minuted in a meeting there!)

After the decision not to take music, schoolbooks or novels, music doesn’t seem to have been collected until the 1850s.  Armed with my trusty national songs list, I went through the 1872 printed library catalogue, which is now conveniently available online.

James Henthorn Todd’s 1872 printed catalogue

I wasn’t surprised to find that Trinity College Dublin seems actually to hold NO NATIONAL SONGS from my list, as regards printed music, between the Welsh collection, Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards by Edward Jones (1784, 1794), and Bunting’s Ancient Music of 1840.  The situation does match a parallel interest in literary balladry, in King’s Inns (where there is only marginally more music from the 1801-36 era), for both libraries certainly hold literary balladry publications from this era – such as Motherwell’s Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern (1827-8).  A little later in the century, I found that Trinity holds Drummond’s Irish collection, Ancient Irish Minstrelsy (1852) dedicated to Revd Richard MacDonnell,  Provost of Trinity College Dublin.  (There’s an online version here:-

It’s hardly surprising that literary minstrelsy trumps musical collections, though.  After all, music is generally folio sized, and the London agents weren’t collecting it.  Literary minstrelsy would just arrive along with other legal deposit books – if such WAS their provenance, for there’s nothing about the volumes I looked at, to indicate where they came from – and if there was an appetite for historical balladry, then it would be added to stock.  (Later in the century, I have looked at William Chappell’s involvement in English national songs and ballads, and the amount of activity in England and Scotland certainly does suggest an enthusiasm for the genre amongst antiquarians and the like.)

So much for national songs-with-their-airs, and literary ballads.  It’s just a small sampling of music, but I think it served my purpose.  Books do trump scores, when it comes to Georgian music in two particular Dublin libraries.  I did also look for pedagogical musical material, and stumbled across one or two music textbooks, but that can wait for another blogpost, I think!

Music received from Stationers' Hall 1859-1860
Music received from Stationers’ Hall 1859-1860



SEQUEL! And now there’s more – see my new blogpost about Music Professors, Degrees and Curricula at Trinity College Dublin.


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