Thursday, November 16, 2017

"The Blue Bell of Scotland": Popular Song, National Air & "Volkslied" - Pt. 2: Mr. Thomson, Mr. Ritson & Mr. Johnson (1802-3)


1. Mrs. Jordan's New Hit (1800)
2. Mr. Thomson, Mr. Ritson & Mr. Johnson (1802-3) 
3. The German Versions (1839-1852) 


I. 

In the first part I have described how a new popular song was introduced on stage and then quickly became a great hit, a "favourite air". One of the major critics didn't like it but that didn't matter much. Other performers and publishers jumped on the band-wagon and offered their own versions to get a slice of the new cake. In the earliest ads the song was called an "old Scottish Ballad". In fact it was a simple song in the popular style that was supposed to sound like an old traditional. Of course this can be seen an attempt at taking advantage of the great enthusiasm for Scottish national airs. 

But it was a mistake to try to pass it off as an "old" song. The publisher tried to correct this by noting in the ads that Mrs. Jordan herself had written the tune. But that didn't help much. Soon editors of songbooks and scholars began to look for precursors and older versions. What they then did was to create a fictitious history around the song that was later taken at face value. One may also say that their attempts at dispossessing Mrs. Jordan of her song proved to be very successful. 


II. 

The first one to offer a new "older" version was George Thomson (1757-1851; see McAulay, pp. 44-52) from Edinburgh, editor of the Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs. This great representative anthology of Scottish songs appeared since 1793. He did his best to modernize the genre and often added new - in his eyes better - texts. Thomson also commissioned popular composers from the continent like Pleyel, Haydn and later Beethoven to write new arrangements. In 1802 the third volume of the Select Collection was published. All arrangements were by Joseph Haydn. Here we can find "O Where tell me. Air, The blue bell of Scotland" (No. 135):



The tune is nearly identical and even in the same key but there is a new text by "written for this work on the Marquis of Huntly's departure for the continent with his regiment, in 1799, by Mrs. Grant, Laggan". Anne MacVicar Grant (1755-1838, see Wikipedia) was a Scottish writer and poet who occasionally helped out Mr. Thomson with new lyrics. Her attempt doesn't sound particularly convincing. It is is more along the lines of standard patriotism and lacks the touching simplicity of the original words:
Oh where, tell me where, is your Highland Laddie gone?
O where, tell me where, is your Highland Laddie gone?
He’s gone with streaming banners where noble deeds are done,
And my sad heart will tremble till he come safely home.
He’s gone with streaming banners, where noble deeds are done.
And my sad heart will tremble, till he come safely home.

O where, tell me where, did your Highland Laddie stay?
O where, tell me where, did your Highland Laddie stay?
He dwelt beneath the holly trees, beside the rapid Spey,
And many a blessing follow'd him, the day he went away;
He dwelt beneath the holly-trees, beside the river Spey,
And many a blessing follow'd him, the day he went away.

O what, tell me what, does your Highland Laddie wear?
O what, tell me what, does your Highland Laddie wear?
A bonnet with a lofty plume, the gallant badge of war.
And a plaid across the manly breast that yet shall wear a star,
A bonnet with a lofty plume, the gallant badge of war,
And a plaid across the manly breast that yet shall wear a star.

Suppose, ah, suppose, that some cruel, cruel wound
Should pierce your Highland Laddie, and all your hopes confound!
The pipe would play a cheering march, the banners round him fly,
The spirit of a Highland chief would lighten in his eye;
The pipe would play a cheering march, the banners round him fly,
And for his King and Country dear with pleasure would he die.

But I will hope to see him yet in Scotland’s bonnie bounds,
But I will hope to see him yet in Scotland’s bonnie bounds,
His native land of liberty shall nurse his glorious wounds,
While wide through all our Highland hills his warlike name resounds,
His native land of liberty shall nurse his glorious wounds,
While wide through all our Highland hills his warlike name resounds. 
There is no mention of Mrs. Jordan as the author and original performer of this song. Instead Thomson clearly tried to suggest that the tune already existed before she sang it on stage. I won't doubt that the Marquis sailed to France in 1799. But the text was surely written later and is based on Mrs. Jordan's version. Apparently Thomson had at first not even planned to include this song. It looks as if it was Haydn's own idea to arrange it and then he sent it to him unsolicited in January 1802 (see Edwards, p. 8): 
"I send you with this the favourite air 'The Blue Bells of Scotland,' and I should like that this little air should be engraved all alone and dedicated in my name as a little complimentary gift to the renowned Mrs. Jordan, whom, without having the honour of knowing, I esteem extremely for her great virtue and reputation" (Hadden, pp. 149-50).
Haydn liked the tune. It was later also included in his Six Admired Scotch Airs (1805, pp. 2-5, at Google Books). But it is not clear how and where he had received the song. He can't have heard it himself because the last time he was in England was in 1795. But it is also unlikely that he had a copy of the original sheet music. It seems he wasn't familiar with the text and had asked Thomson to send it to him (see Edwards, p. 8). It is also strange to see that he was so impressed by Mrs. Jordan even though he didn't know her personally. 

Thomson must have then asked Mrs. Grant to produce a new text which she did on short notice. This volume was ready at the end of April 1802 when it was entered at Stationer's Hall (see Kassler, 28.4.1802). The text can also be found in Anne MacVicar Grant's own collection of poetry published the following year, the Poems on Various Subjects, together with a short note about this one and her other works for Thomson (1803, pp. 407-9): 
"The Author wrote these songs at the request of her Friend Mr. George Thomson, in whose valuable Collection the Airs will be found, joined to the Verses, along with the beautiful Accompaniments of Haydn." 

III.

The second attempt to dispossess Mrs. Jordan followed soon. Antiquarian and scholar Joseph Ritson (1752-1803, see Wikipedia; see Bronson) was one of the foremost experts on national songs and old English poetry. Among his many relevant publications were a series of songsters, collections of texts of songs from the North-East of England, for example The Bishopric Garland or Durham Minstrell (1784), The Yorkshire Garland (1788) and the Northumberland Garland, Or Newcastle Nightingale (1793).

The last of this series was The North-Country Chorister; An unparalleled variety of excellent songs. Collected and published together, for general Amusement, by a Bishoprick Ballad-Singer,  published first in 1802, shortly before his death. Here we can find another version of the song with the title "The New Highland Lad". With seven verses it was the longest so far and he added a short but somewhat nasty and unkind remark: "This song has been lately introduced upon the stage by Mrs. Jordan, who knew neither the words, nor the tune" (No. IV, pp. 12-3, here in: Northern Garlands, 1809): 
There was a Highland laddie courted a lawland lass,
There was, &c.
'He promis'd for to marry her, but he did not tell her when;
And t'was all in her heart she lov'd her Highland man.

Oh where, and oh where does your Highland laddie dwell?
Oh where, &c.
He lives in merry Scotland, at the sign of the Blue bell;
And I vow in my heart I love my laddie well.

What cloaths, O what cloaths does your Highland laddie wear?
What cloaths, &c.
His coat is of Saxon green, his waistcoat of the plaid;
And it's all in my heart I love my Highland lad.

Oh where and oh where is your Highland laddie gone?
Oh where, &c.
He's gone to fight the [faithless] French whilst George is on the throne,
And I vow in my heart I do wish him safe at home.

And if my Highland laddie should chance to come no more,
And if, &c.
They'll call my child a love-begot, myself a common whore;
And I vow in my heart I do wish him safe on shore.

And if my Highland laddie should chance for to dye,
And if, &c.
The bagpipes shall play over him, I'll lay me down and cry,
And I vow in my heart I love my Highland boy.

And if my Highland laddie should chance to come again,
And if, &c.
The parson he shall marry us, and the clerk shall say amen;
And I vow in my heart I love my Highland man. 
We don't know who this "Bishoprick Ballad-Singer" was and Mr. Ritson didn't tell his readers when exactly he had heard and written down the text, before May 1800 or later. But it is highly unlikely that it was a precursor of Mrs. Jordan's song. There is simply no evidence for such a claim and no other earlier variants have been found. Why should a stage star from London borrow a song from an obscure ballad singer who was busy somewhere in the North-East of England? For me this text looks like it was derived from Mrs. Jordan's original lyrics and this would also be much more likely. 

It is easily possible that this particular provincial performer had simply adopted a current popular hit, added some variations and additional verses and sang it to a different tune. Folklorists often tend to assume priority for variants from oral tradition even if they were collected after the publication of the printed version. This may have been the case here. As long as we don't have an actual date Mr. Ritson's text surely can't serve as evidence for any kind of claims about the song's origin and age. We only know that it was first published two years after Mrs. Jordan first performance and the original sheet music. 


IV. 

Mr. Johnson The following year the sixth and last volume of James Johnson's Scots Musical Museum appeared. Here we can find another version of "The Blue Bell of Scotland" (Nr. 548, pp. 566-7), this time with a different tune and a new set of words that looks as if it was derived from the variants available at the time: 


O where and o where does your highland laddie dwell;
O where and o where does your highland laddie dwell;
He dwells in merry Scotland where the blue bells sweetly smell,
And all in my heart I love my laddie well
He dwells in merry Scotland where the blue bells sweetly smell
And all in my heart I love my laddie well.

O what lassie what does your highland laddie wear,
O what lassie what does your highland laddie wear,
A scarlet coat and bonnet blue with bonny yellow hair,
And none in the world can with my love compare.

O what lassie what if your highland lad be slain,
O what lassie what if your highland lad be slain,
O no true love will be his guard and bring him safe again,
For I never could live without my highlandman.

O when and o when will your highland lad come hame,
O when and o when will your highland lad come hame,
When e'er the war is over he'll return to me with fame,
And I'll plait a wreath of flow'rs for my lovely highlandman.

O what will you claim for your constancy to him,
O what will you claim for your constancy to him,
I'll claim a Priest to marry us, a clerk to say Amen,
And ne'er part again from my bonny highlandman. 
But for some reason there is no information about the source of this piece. When and where did Mr. Johnson get the tune and the text? Who sang it that way? This is not particularly helpful. Perhaps he had to use a different melody to avoid problems with the publisher of Mrs. Jordan's song. Or perhaps he wanted to imply that this is an older variant. But he didn't say that. Therefore it is not clear what to make of his version of the song. 


V. 

At that point - in 1803 - three additional versions of "The Blue Bell of Scotland" were available. There is no evidence that any of them was older than the song introduced by Mrs. Jordan in May 1800. All three only came to light two respectively three years after her first performance and the publication of the original sheet music. I tend to think that these were deliberate attempts to undermine her claim to the song. Thomson, Ritson and Johnson created alternate histories that were later often adopted uncritically by other writers and scholars. 

This was for example the case with R. A. Smith who reprinted the version from the Scots Musical Museum in his Scotish Minstrel (Vol. 5, 1821, pp. 58-9) and referred to it as the "Old Set". Smith also included Mrs. Jordan's tune together with Johnson's text as the "Modern Set". This was of course misleading. 

William Stenhouse - in his commentary in a later reprint of the Museum (Vol. 6, 1839, p. 480) - regarded the song as a "parody" of Anne MacVicar Grant's poem. Apparently he thought she was the original author of "Blue Bell of Scotland". Interestingly David Laing quoted in his additional notes (pp. 526-7) an informative remark by Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe who referred to Ritson's "older words of this ballad" and also claimed to have found "another set of words, probably as old, which I transcribed from a 4to collection of songs in MS. made by a lady upwards of seventy years ago". But the text quoted here bears only a very superficial resemblance to Mrs. Jordan's "Blue Bell". It is also about someone going to war. Strangely it looks more similar to Ritson's and Johnson's versions, especially in the fifth verse: 
O, fair maid, whase aught that bonny bairn,
O, fair maid, whase aught that bonny bairn?
It is a sodger's son, she said, that's lately gone to Spain,
Te dilly dan, to dilly dan, te dilly, dilly dam.

[...]

O, fair maid, what if he should come hame?
O, fair, &c.
The parish priest should marry us, the clerk should say amen.
Te dilly dan, &c.
[...] 
"The Blue Bell of Scotland" was of course also included in G. F. Graham's Songs of Scotland, at that time the most comprehensive anthology of Scottish songs (Vol. 2, 1848, pp. 106-7). Mr. Graham felt it necessary to commission a new text - "Oh, I Ha'e Been On The Flow'ry Banks of Clyde" - from one Miss Stirling Graham of Duntrune because he regarded "the old words as very silly". His notes are quite interesting and he was able to compile all information that was available so far. Graham correctly saw it as an English and not a Scottish song. But nonetheless he still got the chronology wrong and believed that the variants published by Ritson, Johnson and Sharpe were all older than Mr. Jordan's popular hit.

William Chappell also discussed the song in his Popular Music of the Olden Time (c.1860, II, pp. 739-40). He saw clearly that Mrs. Grant's version was written after the publication of Mrs. Jordan's "Blue Bells" and correctly noted that Sharpe's text "is in a different metre, and could not be sung to" the two available tunes. But he also claimed - without any further evidence - that Johnson's tune was the original one and that the text published by Ritson already existed before Mrs. Jordan wrote her song. At least he acknowledged that she had composed the tune she sang:
"As to the words, all the verses were not fit for the stage; therefore Mrs. Jordan selected four, made trifling alterations in them, and sang them to a tune of her own."
In the meantime composer Sir Henry Bishop (1786-1855) had also attempted to "dispossess, if possible, the old song of Mrs. Jordan". This was only reported in 1870 by writer and poet Charles Mackay in his Recollections (pp. 199-201). Sir Henry claimed to have found the English song "I have been a forester this many a long day" and "three or four bars of the melody were almost identical". It seems he believed that this was the original source of Mrs. Jordan's tune. As far as I can see nobody else has ever seen this tune except Mr. Mackay who wrote "The Magic Harp" to this melody. There is a song with this title but only with the music written by one Stephen Stratton (see Copac). In fact this story sounds very dubious and I would not take it too seriously. 

We can see that most of the research about this song during the 19th century was not particularly convincing. All these writers had problems with the exact chronology and missed the very simple point that Mrs. Jordan had been the first one to perform "The Blue Bell of Scotland". All other variants were only published thereafter. Instead they relied on Ritson's dubious and unverifiable claims. Not at least they misled themselves by assuming that the tune in the Scots Musical Museum must be older than the "modern" popular hit. 

As a result the song's real history has been seriously obscured. This can be seen in some publications from the turn of the century. Banks in his Immortal Songs of Camp and Field: The Story of Their Inspiration (1799, pp. 279-87; see here p. 286) wrote about Anne MacVicar Grant's life, then quoted from both Ritson and Mackay and in the end claimed wrongly that Mrs. Jordan's text was an "altered version of Mrs. Grant's song". In Crosland's English Songs and Ballads (c. 1902, p. 197) it was only described as "anonymous". Even in modern works Mrs. Jordan doesn't get the credit she deserves. Roger Fiske in his Scotland in Music (1983, p. 73) stated that the song "was published as her own composition." This is of course also misleading. 

There is no reason to doubt that Dorothea Jordan was the author of both the tune and the text of "The Blue Bell of Scotland". The song's history started exactly on May 12, 1800 when she performed it first at Drury Lane. I know of no evidence that an earlier variant existed. The versions presented by Thomson, Ritson and Johnson were only published after that date and there is no proof that they were older. Later claims by Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe and Sir Henry Bishop that they had found a precursor are also not convincing. This is all that can be said at the moment. 


Literature 
  • Louis Albert Banks, Immortal Songs of Camp and Field: The Story of Their Inspiration, Cleveland, 1899, at the Internet Archive 
  • Betrand H. Bronson, Joseph Ritson: Scholar-At-Arms, 2 Vols., Berkeley, 1938 
  • William Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Time.; A Collection of Ancient Songs, Ballads and Dance Tunes, Illustrative of the National Music of England, Vol. II, London, n. d. [1860], at the Internet Archive 
  • T.W.H. Crosland, English Songs and Ballads, London, 1902, at the Internet Archive 
  • Warwick Edwards, New Insights into the Chronology of Haydn's Folksong Arrangements: Reading Between the Lines of the George Thomson Correspondence, in: Haydns Bearbeitungen Schottischer Volkslieder. Bericht über das Symposium 21. - 22. Juni 2002, Haydn-Studien 8.4, 2004, pp. 325-40, here pdf at University of Glasgow
  • Roger Fiske, Scotland In Music. A European Enthusiasm, Cambridge 1983
  • G. F. Graham, The Songs of Scotland Adapted To Their Appropriate Melodies Arranged With Pianoforte Accompaniments By G. F. Graham, T. M. Muddle, J. T. Surenne, H. E. Dibdin, Finlay Dun, &c. Illustrated with Historical, Biographical, and Critical Notices, 3 Vols, Edinburgh, 1848-9, at the Internet Archive 
  • J. Cuthbert Hadden, Haydn. With Illustrations and Portraits, London & New York, 1902, at the Internet Archive 
  • Michael Kassler, Music Entries at Stationers' Hall 1710-1818. From Lists prepared for William Hawes, D. W. Krummel, and Alan Tyson and from Other Sources, Burlington, 2004 (Online Edition, 2013, partly at Google Books
  • Charles Mackay, Forty Years' Recollections of Life, Literature, and Public Affairs. From 1830-1870, Vol. 2, London, 1870, at the Internet Archive 
  • Karen McAulay, Our Ancient National Airs: Scottish Song Collecting from the Enlightenment to the Romantic Era, Farnham 2013 
  • Joseph Ritson (ed.), Northern Garlands, Triphook, London, 1810, at the Internet Archive 
  • R. A. Smith, The Scotish Minstrel. A Selection from the Vocal Melodies of Scotland Ancient & Modern Arranged for the Piano Forte, Purdie, Edinburgh, n. d. [1821-24], 6 Vols., at the Internet Archive 

Go back to: 1. Mrs. Jordan's New Hit (1800)

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