Statements of Responsibility: a Case of Mistaken Identity

Masked Balls and Country Dances

Country dancing was so popular in eighteenth century London, that it is hardly surprising publisher John Walsh churned out a lot of country dance music collections. Indeed, Walsh published so much music that William C. Smith and Charles Humphries produced not one, but two bibliographic volumes covering his early and late career:-

  • Smith, William C., A bibliography of the musical works published by John Walsh during the years 1695-1720. (Reprinted with additions and corrections.). (1968)
  • Smith, William C., and  Charles Humphries, A bibliography of the musical works published by the firm of John Walsh during the years 1721-1766  (1968).

A century before, Andrew Wighton bequeathed his Scottish music collection to the City of Dundee; the City Library is proud to curate this collection in the Wighton Centre, built about a decade ago.

At the end of the nineteenth century, one particular volume, lacking a title page, was deemed by musicologist Frank Kidson and others to have been connected with publisher John Wright. What does this have to do with Walsh, though? Well, Wright is known to have pirated Walsh’s publications.  There is repertoire in common.

They were wrong! I’ve been digging into the mystery volume, and can state that it is categorically not a Wright, but a Walsh volume. Pirate Wright has, in this case, been wronged. It’s not that Wright published a book using Walsh’s materials, but that Walsh published a book using his own materials – two different collections were assembled together to make this single, mystery volume. And it’s no mystery – we know exactly what it is.

Virtually all the tunes in this book are also in two volumes of Walsh’s Compleat Country Dancing-Master, but the order is very random. I don’t think the Compleat Country Dancing-Master volumes are the ones whose plates were put together to make the single volume in the Wighton Collection.

Indeed, I now know exactly which two volumes Walsh drew upon; a quick check with the British Library means I’ve identified all the collections involved in this intriguing story. Dating from the 1730s, the collections are earlier than most of the books we’ve looked at, and they’re not even Scottish – but they do contain Scottish, Welsh and Irish tunes, showing the popularity of this particular repertoire.

Oh, and apologies to Pirate Wright for having wrongfully accused him for over a century.  Hopefully his ghost will forgive us.  Whatever he pirated, this is not one of them.

Eighteenth Century Pirates At Work

Our research friend Ronnie Gibson has alerted us to a London edition of Niel Gow’s A Collection of Strathspey Reels, pirated by publisher Boag.  It’s available online through Google Books, here.  I thought it might be informative to compare it with an original edition.


Gow Collection Strathspey Reels 1784 snip

And Boag’s pirated edition (note that he couldn’t even get the spelling of Gow’s Christian name right!):-

Gow Collection Strathspey Reels Boag pirated version snip