The growth and technological transformation of printing and typography in the nineteenth century included a sort of synesthetic imperialism in print. For example, in 1810, Thomas Moore prefixed to one volume of Irish Melodies a prefatory letter (called, in later editions, "Prefatory Letter on Music") in which he wrote, "though much has been said of the antiquity of our music, it is certain that our finest and most popular airs are modern" (1), and he called attention to the new scores by Sir John Stevenson that accompany his verses in the 1810 printing of Irish Melodies. Though Moore wrote "with respect to the verses which I have written for these Melodies,... they are intended rather to be sung than read" (3), from 1822 onward he published the verses as a collection of poems with no music whatsoever. The project entitled "Irish Melodies" culminates in the deletion of music altogether, while the typographical simulation of it was mass-produced. With or without Moore's intention or wishes (and I think it was without), typography took over the project. The medium of print extirpated the antecedent medium of sound while exploiting its illusion.
Similarly, but five years earlier, in Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Sir Walter Scott had printed the verbal text of "lays, 'steeped in the stream of harmony'," although no harmony or melody or music of any sort were included (1802, xci). Another indication of the popularity of the nostalgic and folkloric theme, in the typographical culture of the period, is that Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan) had published Twelve Original Hibernian Melodies in 1805, three years after Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and her The Lay of an Irish Harp; Or, Metrical Fragments and Patriotic Sketches of Ireland appeared in 1807, in the same year in which Moore published the first part of Irish Melodies.
Typographically reproducible words are of course not really "melodies," though poets, editors, and publishers exploit the metonymic relationship of typographical products to sounds. Like paper money (also a typographical development of the same period, but a more controversial and less charming one (1)), ballads, lays, melodies, and songs proliferated in signs and symbols as they disappeared in fact.
In obvious ways, this metonymic surrogation of sound is not new: from the earliest written record of an Old English song, Caedmon's hymn, onward, in English poetry scripts were never really sounds though their scriptorial avatars said and say that they are--what exists is not the song of the shepherd Caedmon from the occasion of the bir-scippe, from which he hid because he feared he could not sing, until an angel endowed him with the gift of sacred song, but rather what exists is a scribal transcription of the Venerable Bede's verbal record, in Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, with Bede's Latin surrounding the Old English verses that he attributed to a shepherd named Caedmon who was already only a character in a written work. Outside Bede's narrative (in Latin), there is no indication that Caedmon ever existed, though the charming story of the bashful but pious shepherd gifted with song by an angel has been reproduced for centuries.
In all odes, in the fictitious singing of ancient and Early Modern pastoral poetry, the songs of Petrarch, the Piper's Songs of Innocence and the Bard's Songs of Experience, the Lyrical Ballads, Byron's Hebrew Melodies, Scott's "Lay of the Last Minstrel," and, among the vestiges of ancient poetry, the Song of Solomon, Psalms, and the pseudo-songs of Moschus, Bion, Theocritus, Anacreon (translated into English poetry by Thomas Moore), that which is script or typography is presented as if it were sound, of which it is at most a prescription (like a printed score) or a lexical imitation, like Moore's poems.
In the Romantic period, however, the typographical simulation of sound grows rapidly, and changes in this age of mechanical reproduction. Textual products not only perpetrate the simulation of sound, but sometimes, and perhaps with less than entire honesty, they do so in the interest of the same sort of marketing category that makes twentieth-century movie previews more base in their appeals than the films that they advertise: the primitive, the bodily present, the intuitive and emotional spontaneity associated with music, cast a wider net for customers than the cogitative domain of typographical literacy and its correlative abstractions of thought. (2) "Music is feeling, then, not sound" (Stevens), and in the hyper-mediated, hyper-marketed world of which Todd Gitlin has recently written, "we have come to care tremendously about how we feel.... Our prevailing business is the business not of information but of satisfaction, the feeling of feelings" (5). What happened to the novel Frankenstein, between the first edition of 1818 and the popularized version of 1831, a commercially motivated pretense of a thrill (in 1831) in place of what had been a very different sort of project (in 1818), happens also to the simulation of song in the Romantic period.
However, a simultaneous and contradictory development arises from that commercialization of purposes (and here too I think that Hollywood cinema furnishes contemporary instances as well): as Solomon, Moschus, Caedmon, and Petrarch do not, sometimes the pseudo-songs internalize their own simulative status as a philosophical theme: sold as songs though they are not really songs, some of the pseudo-songs turn this "not-really" theme into a matter for reflexive thought.
Under the term "remediation," Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin have articulated a "double logic" whereby "our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation" (5). The latter of these desires--the illusion of immediacy--"dictates that the medium itself should disappear and leave us in the presence of the thing represented" (9). Though Bolter and Grusin write primarily of digital media, they acknowledge often that the dialectic of immediacy (the illusion of presence) and hyper-mediation (the multiplication of different media) has been important for several centuries: medieval altar-pieces and illuminated manuscripts, for example, are examples of hyper-mediation as are Web pages and digital graphics generally (12), and likewise film adaptations of literary works (44-45); Linda Hutcheon's A Theory of Adaptation is also explicit, passim, about the multiple media whose transformations amount, in themselves, to a large part of the spectacle on offer.
Irish Melodies (in its multiple incarnations) furnishes a remarkable nineteenth-century example: in 1810, the "first volume, second number" of Irish Melodies appears; the title-page features an engraving by R. And L. Wilson of a drawing by an unnamed artist depicting a female Erin on an island, a shield and spear laid at her feet and an upright harp in her hand. This title-page announces "Symphonies and Accompaniments by Sir John Stevenson" and "Characteristic Words by Thomas Moore." This edition includes "A Prefatory Letter to the Marchioness Dowager of D______," commenting upon "the antiquity of our [Irish] music" though every word printed in the book was composed newly in England. The simulation of Irish antiquity in a work of British modernity includes references to early music (e.g., comments upon "the irregular scale of the early Irish, in which, as in the music of Scotland, the interval of the fourth was wanting") but no early music, though the volume includes a full-page list of "New Music by Thomas Moore and Sir John Stevenson" (unpaginated back-matter).
Developing the concept from Bolter and Grusin, Jerome McGann speaks of a perpetual "dialectic of remediation"--an unending transposition of cultural records into forms that obliterate the object they are built to preserve. McGann refers to digital replicas of typographical works, but Romantic-period pseudo-songs show how typography had already, in the nineteenth century, obliterated the cultural currency of song under the sign of its preservation and dissemination.
Again, some, though obviously not all, typographical surrogates of pre-typographical song theorize their own modus operandi, their own mode of existence as simulacra, and they sometimes represent critically this problem of illusory signification which they simultaneously exemplify and render visible for inspection and for critique (for other examples, see Bolter and Grusin, 45). Romantic-period pseudo-songs simultaneously perpetrate and lament, exploit and criticize, the loss that they bring about under the category of gain.
Though in this essay my examples are Moore's Irish Melodies and Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, I mean to adumbrate with these examples the large problem of remediation and the obliteration of presence that is wrought in the period by the industrialization of commerce and its charming simulacra of the pre-commercial culture that industrial capitalism eliminates precisely by selling its simulation. Canonical examples include Robert Burns's Scots Musical Museum, ed. James Johnson (6 vols., 1787-1803) and his Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice, ed. George Thomson (8 parts, 1793-1818). Non-canonical examples filled the streets and the printed advertisements for print products: Thomas Eldon's The Sensitive Plant: A Glee for Three Voices (1790), the anonymous Three London Cries plus "A Bloody Murder" (1775), The Universal Songster; or, Museum of Mirth (1829), The Apollo; or, Harmonic Miscellany: Containing English, Scotch, and Irisn Songs, Ballads, & c. & c. With the Music (1814), Thomas Campbell's Ye Mariners of England, Old Joe, Buffalo Gals (183[?]), and the ever-popular and oft-reprinted Babes in the Wood. The relationship of song with commerce and the typographical transformation of that relationship have recently been explained vividly by William Laffan in his edition (2003) of The Cries of Dublin Drawn from the Life by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, 1760, which reproduces graphical simulations of street-singers, and by Sean Shesgreen's Images of the Outcast: The Urban Poor in the Cries of London (2002), which narrates the migration of cries from street-songs to broadsides to nineteenth-century books. For a number of reasons, however, I will restrict my claim about the reflexivity of the genre, its critical awareness and its systematic thematizing of its own illusionism, to the canonical examples to which I now turn.
When Thomas Moore revised the Irish Melodies in 1818, he was concerned about money: from the publisher Longmans he "received a Bond to Miss Anastasia Moore/ for [pounds sterling]515--the dear Mother will be so glad to get this" (Journals, December 8, 1818; 1:99). Moore writes of his concern about increasing the distribution of his work (arranging, for example, an American edition of his Anacreon); and he expresses interest in the ornamental packaging of his work (commissioning woodcuts, for instance, for the American edition of Anacreon). He monitored published reviews of Irish Melodies, recording in his journal his distress about Leigh Hunt's negative review in The Examiner (132) and recording his satisfaction that the Quarterly Musical Review had published two articles "most warmly laudatory, on my National Melodies & Seventh Number of the Irish" (131-32). After arranging in 1818 for the joint publication of his works by James Power in Dublin and Longmans in London, Moore engaged in sometimes acrimonious negotiations, as, for example, dispute about whether Moore or Power should pay the composer, Sir Henry Rowley Bishop, [pounds sterling]50 for arranging the music for a new edition of Irish Melodies (January 25, 1819; 134).
The revised Irish Melodies are a corporate production in several ways: two publishing firms are involved; the music is the work of Bishop now (not Stevenson as in 1810) and the poetry of Moore; and, again, ornamentation is involved, as Power suggests using lithography (by Thomas Crofton Croker) for the printing of Bishop's score with Moore's poems (January 24, 1819). Moore visited a singer whom Richard Power had recommended he consult, and he listened approvingly to her singing at her house; he sang himself, though, when the poet Thomas Campbell asked him to sing one of the Irish Melodies, Moore replied, "the air is not fit for words, & I never sing it" (June 2, 1819; 1: 181).
Throughout his journals, Moore's accounts of the Irish Melodies make it clear that this project is commercial rather than sentimental, that his work is verbal and not musical, English and not Irish, and that the popular illusions about the Irish Melodies, the widespread sentimental fondness for their supposedly authentic and emotional quality, are illusions. He writes with derisive amusement about a lady in a coach whom he heard singing one of his poems. The speculative and illusory character of the project is most glaringly obvious when Moore finds an advertisement "announcing the 8th Number of the Irish Melodies as 'ready for the Press'--not a word of it yet written!" (August 16, 1820; 1: 335). Beyond the fact that those poems did not exist, the poems in Irish Melodies that did exist are not really songs: Moore's method was to write a poem and subsequently to look for an already-existing tune by somebody else which would match his poem (October 6, 1820; 350). One source of these tunes upon which Moore drew, after writing his poems, is Edward Bunting's General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music (1796)--but Moore finds the ancient tunes only after he finishes writing the modern poems.
In the event, a new edition of Irish Melodies appeared in 1821, published by Power and by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown; the volume is ornamented with a title vignette and with illustrative engravings by W. H. Brooke, but without music, though the volume includes, superfluously, the "prefatory letter on music" that was first published in 1810, when the poems were accompanied by musical scores composed by Sir John Stevenson, and the volume in 1821 includes, too, a reprinting (pp. 255-59) of prior advertisements of the Irish Melodies; the advertisements for earlier volumes are at least in part impertinent, because Moore had written poems for this new edition only recently (in 1820).
Five years before the publication of the first part of Moore's Irish Melodies, Sir Walter Scott had published a collection of pseudo-songs that is in many ways analogous: Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border: Consisting of Historial and Romantic Ballads, Collected in the Southern Counties of Scotland; with a Few of Modern Date, Founded upon Local Tradition. In Two Volumes is, like Irish Melodies, an entirely typographical project (without even commissioned scores such as those that Moore and his publisher bought to accompany some of the printings of Irish Melodies); like Moore's later work, Scott's book is presents for sale on the basis of an appeal to the ancient, the primitive, and the musical--whereas it is in fact modern (Scott includes new poems by himself and others (3)), up-to-date technologically (the printing by James Ballantyne is elaborate and ornamental, and the first edition was sold in London by Cadell and Davies), and in its civilized erudition remote from the cultural conditions places in bibliographical museum, as it were. (4) Scott's scholarly introduction, for example, runs for 110 pages before the first poem appears; these 110 pages of modern commentary are in turn followed by five appendices (running 25 pages), concluding with a new work that could hardly be more removed from the supposedly antique materials to which it refers: "Supplemental Stanzas To Collins's Ode On the Superstitions of the Highlands. By William Erskine, Esq. Advocate." Collins's ode was remote from the antique materials already, and Erskine's poem, which is about Collins's ode rather than the antique materials, and which has no music whatsoever, is followed by the editors' (Scott's) commentary on Erskine's response to Collins's modern commentary on the antique superstitions. The table of contents for the first volume does not appear until page 138 [cxxxviii].
Volume Two of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border includes "Romantic Ballads" (as opposed to the "Historical Ballads" of Volume One); the first of them is "Scottish Music, an Ode," which of course involves no Scottish music, or music of any sort, but is rather a new poem by John Leyden entitled "To Ianthe," and which, distantly enough from Scottish folklore, says,
Ah! Sure as Hindu legends tell, When music's tones the bosom swell, The scenes of former life return; Ere, sunk beneath the morning star, We left our parent climes afar, Immured in mortal forms to mourn.
The literary-historical interest of this poem includes the fact that Leyden's poem appears in the same year that Wordsworth writes "Ode: Intimations of Immortality" with its version of exotic reincarnation; and Leyden's "To Ianthe" precedes Byron's "To Ianthe" by fourteen years. Leyden's 1802 verse on Hindu mythology is not an instance of Minstrelsy on the Scottish Border, or of minstrelsy at all. There is no song here, but only pseudo-song: there is typographical praise of music, its power, its value, its emotional appeal and importance, and there is the sale of typography via an appeal to that which it is not--i.e., music.
Like Erskine's poem about Collins's poem, and like Leyden's poem about Hindu mythology, Scott's own learned and lengthy "Introduction" of 110 pages alienates the book from its antique materials, historicizing and distancing both the putative singers of the minstrelsy and their ways of life: "The idea that the spirits of the deceased return to haunt the place, where on earth they have suffered, or have rejoiced, is, as Dr. JOHNSON has observed, common to the popular creed of all nations"; and "Human vanity, or credulity, chequers with its own inferior and base colours, the noble prospect which is alike held out to us by philosophy and religion"; and "superstitious belief in witchcraft ... gave rise to ... much cruelty and persecution.... There were several executions upon the borders for this imaginary crime" (1: lxxviii).
Like Scott's treatise on the border ballads and the culture from which they arose, and like the modern poems that are supposedly imitative of the antique ballads but which are instead about them, in removed ways, and like the business plan, typical for Scott, of the partnership with the London publishers Cadell and Davies and also the printing partnership with Ballantyne, these statements--and there are scores of them in the lengthy essay that begins the work--place the supposedly antique songs at more than arm's length. The distance between Scott's modernity (or rather the modernity of his customers) and the illusion of antiquity which he invokes rhetorically constitutes the appeal of the book.
It is not my purpose to fault the artistry of either Moore or Scott: skillfully, both poets exploit the resources of typographical culture, including techniques that I have not illustrated, such as phonetic dimensions of typographical verse, a pseudo-sonic adornment of the commercial projects. I do, however, want to point out that that these are commercial projects in the age of typographical reproduction of commodities--not Irish Melodies, not minstrelsy of the Scottish border, but at most a theme park about them.
(1) On the Romantic-period problem of paper money as an empty signifier, a "confusion of fiction with hard fact," Terence Allan Hoagwood, Skepticism and Ideology: Shelley's Political Prose and Its Philosophical Contexts from Bacon to Marx (1988), 188-91.
(2) An outstanding discussion of the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge in the context of Walter Ong's categories of orality, literacy, and secondary orality, Marilyn Gaull, "The Speaking face of Things and the Bride of Quietness," The Coleridge Bulletin, NS 28 (winter 2006) 13-21.
(3) Sutherland points out that "Robert Surtees [a collector] persuaded Scott to include as original his spurious 'The Death of Featherstonhaugh (Surtees also concocted another contribution to the Minstrelsy, 'Barthram's Dirge,' which he claimed came to him from an old lady who weeded his garden)" (76). Furthermore, "Over 1801, Scott (urged by [John] Leyden) expanded his conception to a third volume, for which Leyden embarked on a vigorous programme of fieldwork. This final part would also incorporate a corpus of original 'imitations' (in which Leyden again seems to have been influential)" (79); and "Leyden's 'Imitations of the Ancient Ballads'--particularly 'Lord Soulis'--are among the finest things in the Minstrelsy" (77).
(4) Sutherland writes, "Scott delegated most of the leg-work involved in locating, from oral sources in the countryside, the patches and variants for his composite texts. His principal aide was John Leyden...." (77).
Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. Book 4. Medieval Sourcebook. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html; Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media. rpt. 2000; Gitlin, Todd. Media Unlimited. 2001; Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. 2006; Laffan, William, ed. The Cries of Dublin Drawn from the Life by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, 1760. 2003; Jerome McGann, "Philology in a New Key: Humane Studies in Digital Space. "Keynote address, "Digital Textual Studies: Past, Present and Future," Texas A & M Univ. October 19, 2006; Moore, Thomas. A Selection of Irish Melodies, with Symphonies and Accompaniments by Sir John Stevenson Mus. Doc. and Characteristic Words by Thomas Moore Esq. n.d [but 1810?] ______. Irish Melodies, by Thomas Moore, Esq. Second Ed. 1822. ______. Journals of Thomas Moore, ed. Wilfred S. Dowden. 6 vols. 1983; Scott, Sir Walter. Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border: Consisting of Historical and Romantic Ballads, Collected in the Southern Counties of Scotland, with a Few of Modern Date, Founded upon Local Tradition. 1802; Shesgreen, Sean. Images of the Outcast: The Urban Poor in the Cries of London. 2002; Stevens, Wallace. "Peter Quince at the Clavier." 1915. Poems by ... Ed. Morse. 1959; Sutherland J., The Life of Walter Scott. 1995.
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