Charles Dickens and Music
by James T. Lightwood
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First Edition, 1912



For many years I have been interested in the various musical references in Dickens' works, and have had the impression that a careful examination of his writings would reveal an aspect of his character hitherto unknown, and, I may add, unsuspected. The centenary of his birth hastened a work long contemplated, and a first reading (after many years) brought to light an amount of material far in excess of what I anticipated, while a second examination convinced me that there is, perhaps, no great writer who has made a more extensive use of music to illustrate character and create incident than Charles Dickens. From an historical point of view these references are of the utmost importance, for they reflect to a nicety the general condition of ordinary musical life in England during the middle of the last century. We do not, of course, look to Dickens for a history of classical music during the period—those who want this will find it in the newspapers and magazines; but for the story of music in the ordinary English home, for the popular songs of the period, for the average musical attainments of the middle and lower classes (music was not the correct thing amongst the 'upper ten'), we must turn to the pages of Dickens' novels. It is certainly strange that no one has hitherto thought of tapping this source of information. In and about 1887 the papers teemed with articles that outlined the history of music during the first fifty years of Victoria's reign; but I have not seen one that attempted to derive first-hand information from the sources referred to, nor indeed does the subject of 'Dickens and Music' ever appear to have received the attention which, in my opinion, it deserves.

I do not profess to have chronicled all the musical references, nor has it been possible to identify every one of the numerous quotations from songs, although I have consulted such excellent authorities as Dr. Cummings, Mr. Worden (Preston), and Mr. J. Allanson Benson (Bromley). I have to thank Mr. Frank Kidson, who, I understand, had already planned a work of this description, for his kind advice and assistance. There is no living writer who has such a wonderful knowledge of old songs as Mr. Kidson, a knowledge which he is ever ready to put at the disposal of others. Even now there are some half-dozen songs which every attempt to run to earth has failed, though I have tried to 'mole 'em out' (as Mr. Pancks would say) by searching through some hundreds of song-books and some thousands of separate songs.

Should any of my readers be able to throw light on dark places I shall be very glad to hear from them, with a view to making the information here presented as complete and correct as possible if another edition should be called for. May I suggest to the Secretaries of our Literary Societies, Guilds, and similar organizations that a pleasant evening might be spent in rendering some of the music referred to by Dickens. The proceedings might be varied by readings from his works or by historical notes on the music. Many of the pieces are still in print, and I shall be glad to render assistance in tracing them. Perhaps this idea will also commend itself to the members of the Dickens Fellowship, an organization with which all lovers of the great novelist ought to associate themselves.


I truly love Dickens; and discern in the inner man of him a tone of real Music which struggles to express itself, as it may in these bewildered, stupefied and, indeed, very crusty and distracted days—better or worse!

















With Abbreviations Used

American Notes 1842 A.N. Barnaby Rudge 1841 B.R. Battle of Life 1848 B.L. Bleak House 1852-3 B.H. Chimes 1844 Ch. Christmas Carol 1843 C.C. Christmas StoriesC.S. Christmas Stories— Dr. Marigold's Prescription 1865 Dr. M. Going into Society 1855 G.S. Holly Tree 1855 H.T. Mugby Junction 1866 M.J. Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings 1863 — No Thoroughfare 1867 N.T. Somebody's Luggage 1862 S.L. Wreck of the Golden Mary 1856 G.M. Collected PapersC.P. Cricket on the Hearth 1845 C.H. Dombey & Son 1847-8 D. & S. David Copperfield 1849-50 D.C. Edwin Drood 1870 E.D. Great Expectations 1860-1 G.E. Hard Times 1854 H.T. Haunted House 1859 — Haunted Man 1848 H.M. Holiday RomanceH.R. Little Dorrit 1855-6 L.D. Martin Chuzzlewit 1843-4 M.C. Master Humphrey's Clock 1840-1 M.H.C. Mystery of Edwin Drood 1870 E.D. Nicholas Nickleby 1838-9 N.N. Old Curiosity Shop 1840 O.C.S. Oliver Twist 1837-8 O.T. Our Mutual Friend 1864 O.M.F. Pickwick Papers 1836-7 P.P. Pictures from Italy 1846 It. Reprinted Pieces— Our Bore 1852 — Our English Watering-Place 1851 — Our French Watering-Place 1854 — Our School 1851 — Out of the Season 1856 — Sketches by Boz 1835-6 S.B. Characters — S.B.C. Our Parish — — Scenes — S.B.S. Tales — S.B.T. Sunday under Three Heads 1836 — Sketches of Young People 1840 — Sketches of Young Gentlemen 1838 — Tale of Two Cities, A 1859 — Uncommercial Traveller 1860-9 U.T.




The attempts to instil the elements of music into Charles Dickens when he was a small boy do not appear to have been attended with success. Mr. Kitton tells us that he learnt the piano during his school days, but his master gave him up in despair. Mr. Bowden, an old schoolfellow of the novelist's when he was at Wellington House Academy, in Hampstead Road, says that music used to be taught there, and that Dickens received lessons on the violin, but he made no progress, and soon relinquished it. It was not until many years after that he made his third and last attempt to become an instrumentalist. During his first transatlantic voyage he wrote to Forster telling him that he had bought an accordion.

The steward lent me one on the passage out, and I regaled the ladies' cabin with my performances. You can't think with what feelings I play 'Home, Sweet Home' every night, or how pleasantly sad it makes us.

On the voyage back he gives the following description of the musical talents of his fellow passengers:

One played the accordion, another the violin, and another (who usually began at six o'clock a.m.) the key bugle: the combined effect of which instruments, when they all played different tunes, in different parts of the ship, at the same time, and within hearing of each other, as they sometimes did (everybody being intensely satisfied with his own performance), was sublimely hideous.

He does not tell us whether he was one of the performers on these occasions.

But although he failed as an instrumentalist he took delight in hearing music, and was always an appreciative yet critical listener to what was good and tuneful. His favourite composers were Mendelssohn—whose Lieder he was specially fond of[1]—Chopin, and Mozart. He heard Gounod's Faust whilst he was in Paris, and confesses to having been quite overcome with the beauty of the music. 'I couldn't bear it,' he says, in one of his letters, 'and gave in completely. The composer must be a very remarkable man indeed.' At the same time he became acquainted with Offenbach's music, and heard Orphee aux enfers. This was in February, 1863. Here also he made the acquaintance of Auber, 'a stolid little elderly man, rather petulant in manner.' He told Dickens that he had lived for a time at 'Stock Noonton' (Stoke Newington) in order to study English, but he had forgotten it all. In the description of a dinner in the Sketches we read that

The knives and forks form a pleasing accompaniment to Auber's music, and Auber's music would form a pleasing accompaniment to the dinner, if you could hear anything besides the cymbals.

He met Meyerbeer on one occasion at Lord John Russell's. The musician congratulated him on his outspoken language on Sunday observance, a subject in which Dickens was deeply interested, and on which he advocated his views at length in the papers entitled Sunday under Three Heads.

Dickens was acquainted with Jenny Lind, and he gives the following amusing story in a letter to Douglas Jerrold, dated Paris, February 14, 1847:

I am somehow reminded of a good story I heard the other night from a man who was a witness of it and an actor in it. At a certain German town last autumn there was a tremendous furore about Jenny Lind, who, after driving the whole place mad, left it, on her travels, early one morning. The moment her carriage was outside the gates, a party of rampant students who had escorted it rushed back to the inn, demanded to be shown to her bedroom, swept like a whirlwind upstairs into the room indicated to them, tore up the sheets, and wore them in strips as decorations. An hour or two afterwards a bald old gentleman of amiable appearance, an Englishman, who was staying in the hotel, came to breakfast at the table d'hote, and was observed to be much disturbed in his mind, and to show great terror whenever a student came near him. At last he said, in a low voice, to some people who were near him at the table, 'You are English gentlemen, I observe. Most extraordinary people, these Germans. Students, as a body, raving mad, gentlemen!' 'Oh, no,' said somebody else: 'excitable, but very good fellows, and very sensible.' 'By God, sir!' returned the old gentleman, still more disturbed, 'then there's something political in it, and I'm a marked man. I went out for a little walk this morning after shaving, and while I was gone'—he fell into a terrible perspiration as he told it—'they burst into my bedroom, tore up my sheets, and are now patrolling the town in all directions with bits of 'em in their button-holes.' I needn't wind up by adding that they had gone to the wrong chamber.

It was Dickens' habit wherever he went on his Continental travels to avail himself of any opportunity of visiting the opera; and his criticisms, though brief, are always to the point. He tells us this interesting fact about Carrara:

There is a beautiful little theatre there, built of marble, and they had it illuminated that night in my honour. There was really a very fair opera, but it is curious that the chorus has been always, time out of mind, made up of labourers in the quarries, who don't know a note of music, and sing entirely by ear.

But much as he loved music, Dickens could never bear the least sound or noise while he was studying or writing, and he ever waged a fierce war against church bells and itinerant musicians. Even when in Scotland his troubles did not cease, for he writes about 'a most infernal piper practising under the window for a competition of pipers which is to come off shortly.' Elsewhere he says that he found Dover 'too bandy' for him (he carefully explains he does not refer to its legs), while in a letter to Forster he complains bitterly of the vagrant musicians at Broadstairs, where he 'cannot write half an hour without the most excruciating organs, fiddles, bells, or glee singers.' The barrel-organ, which he somewhere calls an 'Italian box of music,' was one source of annoyance, but bells were his special aversion. 'If you know anybody at St. Paul's,' he wrote to Forster, 'I wish you'd send round and ask them not to ring the bell so. I can hardly hear my own ideas as they come into my head, and say what they mean.' His bell experiences at Genoa are referred to elsewhere (p. 57).

How marvellously observant he was is manifest in the numerous references in his letters and works to the music he heard in the streets and squares of London and other places. Here is a description of Golden Square, London, W. (N.N.):

Two or three violins and a wind instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float in the evening time round the head of the mournful statue, the guardian genius of the little wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of the square.... Sounds of gruff voices practising vocal music invade the evening's silence, and the fumes of choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and cigars and German pipes and flutes, and violins and violoncellos, divide the supremacy between them. It is the region of song and smoke. Street bands are on their mettle in Golden Square, and itinerant glee singers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its boundaries.

We have another picture in the description of Dombey's house, where—

the summer sun was never on the street but in the morning, about breakfast-time.... It was soon gone again, to return no more that day, and the bands of music and the straggling Punch's shows going after it left it a prey to the most dismal of organs and white mice.

As a Singer

Most of the writers about Dickens, and especially his personal friends, bear testimony both to his vocal power and his love of songs and singing. As a small boy we read of him and his sister Fanny standing on a table singing songs, and acting them as they sang. One of his favourite recitations was Dr. Watts' 'The voice of the sluggard,' which he used to give with great effect. The memory of these words lingered long in his mind, and both Captain Cuttle and Mr. Pecksniff quote them with excellent appropriateness.

When he grew up he retained his love of vocal music, and showed a strong predilection for national airs and old songs. Moore's Irish Melodies had also a special attraction for him. In the early days of his readings his voice frequently used to fail him, and Mr. Kitton tells us that in trying to recover the lost power he would test it by singing these melodies to himself as he walked about. It is not surprising, therefore, to find numerous references to these songs, as well as to other works by Moore, in his writings.

From a humorous account of a concert on board ship we gather that Dickens possessed a tenor voice. Writing to his daughter from Boston in 1867, he says:

We had speech-making and singing in the saloon of the Cuba after the last dinner of the voyage. I think I have acquired a higher reputation from drawing out the captain, and getting him to take the second in 'All's Well' and likewise in 'There's not in the wide world'[2] (your parent taking the first), than from anything previously known of me on these shores.... We also sang (with a Chicago lady, and a strong-minded woman from I don't know where) 'Auld Lang Syne,' with a tender melancholy expressive of having all four been united from our cradles. The more dismal we were, the more delighted the company were. Once (when we paddled i' the burn) the captain took a little cruise round the compass on his own account, touching at the Canadian Boat Song,[3] and taking in supplies at Jubilate, 'Seas between us braid ha' roared,' and roared like ourselves.

J.T. Field, in his Yesterdays with Authors, says: 'To hear him sing an old-time stage song, such as he used to enjoy in his youth at a cheap London theatre ... was to become acquainted with one of the most delightful and original companions in the world.'

When at home he was fond of having music in the evening. His daughter tells us that on one occasion a member of his family was singing a song while he was apparently deep in his book, when he suddenly got up and saying 'You don't make enough of that word,' he sat down by the piano and showed how it should be sung.

On another occasion his criticism was more pointed.

One night a gentleman visitor insisted on singing 'By the sad sea waves,' which he did vilely, and he wound up his performance by a most unexpected and misplaced embellishment, or 'turn.' Dickens found the whole ordeal very trying, but managed to preserve a decorous silence till this sound fell on his ear, when his neighbour said to him, 'Whatever did he mean by that extraneous effort of melody?' 'Oh,' said Dickens, 'that's quite in accordance with rule. When things are at their worst they always take a turn.'

Forster relates that while he was at work on the Old Curiosity Shop he used to discover specimens of old ballads in his country walks between Broadstairs and Ramsgate, which so aroused his interest that when he returned to town towards the end of 1840 he thoroughly explored the ballad literature of Seven Dials,[4] and would occasionally sing not a few of these wonderful discoveries with an effect that justified his reputation for comic singing in his childhood. We get a glimpse of his investigations in Out of the Season, where he tells us about that 'wonderful mystery, the music-shop,' with its assortment of polkas with coloured frontispieces, and also the book-shop, with its 'Little Warblers and Fairburn's Comic Songsters.'

Here too were ballads on the old ballad paper and in the old confusion of types, with an old man in a cocked hat, and an armchair, for the illustration to Will Watch the bold smuggler, and the Friar of Orders Grey, represented by a little girl in a hoop, with a ship in the distance. All these as of yore, when they were infinite delights to me.

On one of his explorations he met a landsman who told him about the running down of an emigrant ship, and how he heard a sound coming over the sea 'like a great sorrowful flute or Aeolian harp.' He makes another and very humorous reference to this instrument in a letter to Landor, in which he calls to mind

that steady snore of yours, which I once heard piercing the door of your bedroom ... reverberating along the bell-wire in the hall, so getting outside into the street, playing Aeolian harps among the area railings, and going down the New Road like the blast of a trumpet.

The deserted watering-place referred to in Out of the Season is Broadstairs, and he gives us a further insight into its musical resources in a letter to Miss Power written on July 2, 1847, in which he says that

a little tinkling box of music that stops at 'come' in the melody of the Buffalo Gals, and can't play 'out to-night,' and a white mouse, are the only amusements left at Broadstairs.

'Buffalo Gals' was a very popular song 'Sung with great applause by the Original Female American Serenaders.' (c. 1845.) The first verse will explain the above allusion:

As I went lum'rin' down de street, down de street, A 'ansom gal I chanc'd to meet, oh, she was fair to view. Buffalo gals, can't ye come out to-night, come out to-night, come out to-night; Buffalo gals, can't ye come out to-night, and dance by the light of the moon.

We find some interesting musical references and memories in the novelist's letters. Writing to Wilkie Collins in reference to his proposed sea voyage, he quotes Campbell's lines from 'Ye Mariners of England':

As I sweep Through the deep When the stormy winds do blow.

There are other references to this song in the novels. I have pointed out elsewhere that the last line also belongs to a seventeenth-century song.

Writing to Mark Lemon (June, 1849) he gives an amusing parody of

Lesbia hath a beaming eye,


Lemon is a little hipped.

In a letter to Maclise he says:

My foot is in the house, My bath is on the sea, And before I take a souse, Here's a single note to thee.

These lines are a reminiscence of Byron's ode to Tom Moore, written from Venice on July 10, 1817:

My boat is on the shore, And my bark is on the sea, But before I go, Tom Moore, Here's a double health to thee!

The words were set to music by Bishop. This first verse had a special attraction for Dickens, and he gives us two or three variations of it, including a very apt one from Dick Swiveller (see p. 126).

Henry F. Chorley, the musical critic, was an intimate friend of Dickens. On one occasion he went to hear Chorley lecture on 'The National Music of the World,' and subsequently wrote him a very friendly letter criticizing his delivery, but speaking in high terms of the way he treated his subject.

In one of his letters he makes special reference to the singing of the Hutchinson family.[5] Writing to the Countess of Blessington, he says:

I must have some talk with you about these American singers. They must never go back to their own country without your having heard them sing Hood's 'Bridge of Sighs.'

Amongst the distinguished visitors at Gad's Hill was Joachim, who was always a welcome guest, and of whom Dickens once said 'he is a noble fellow.' His daughter writes in reference to this visit:

I never remember seeing him so wrapt and absorbed as he was then, on hearing him play; and the wonderful simplicity and un-self-consciousness of the genius went straight to my father's heart, and made a fast bond of sympathy between those two great men.

In Music Drama

Much has been written about Dickens' undoubted powers as an actor, as well as his ability as a stage manager, and it is well known that it was little more than an accident that kept him from adopting the dramatic profession. He ever took a keen interest in all that pertained to the stage, and when he was superintending the production of a play he was always particular about the musical arrangements. There is in existence a play-bill of 1833 showing that he superintended a private performance of Clari. This was an opera by Bishop, and contains the first appearance of the celebrated 'Home, Sweet Home,' a melody which, as we have already said, he reproduced on the accordion some years after. He took the part of Rolano, but had no opportunity of showing off his singing abilities, unless he took a part in the famous glee 'Sleep, gentle lady,' which appears in the work as a quartet for alto, two tenors, and bass, though it is now arranged in other forms.

In his dealings with the drama Dickens was frequently his own bandmaster and director of the music. For instance, in No Thoroughfare we find this direction: 'Boys enter and sing "God Save the Queen" (or any school devotional hymn).' At Obenreizer's entrance a 'mysterious theme is directed to be played,' that gentleman being 'well informed, clever, and a good musician.'

Dickens was concerned in the production of one operetta—The Village Coquettes—for which he wrote the words, and John Hullah composed the music. It consists of songs, duets, and concerted pieces, and was first produced at St. James's Theatre, London, on December 6, 1836. The following year it was being performed at Edinburgh when a fire broke out in the theatre, and the instrumental scores together with the music of the concerted pieces were destroyed. No fresh copy was ever made, but the songs are still to be obtained. Mr. Kitton, in his biography of the novelist, says, 'The play was well received, and duly praised by prominent musical journals.'

The same writer gives us to understand that Hullah originally composed the music for an opera called The Gondolier, but used the material for The Village Coquettes. Braham, the celebrated tenor, had a part in it. Dickens says in a letter to Hullah that he had had some conversation with Braham about the work. The singer thought very highly of it, and Dickens adds:

His only remaining suggestion is that Miss Rainforth[6] will want another song when the piece is in rehearsal—'a bravura—something in "The soldier tired" way.'

We have here a reference to a song which had a long run of popularity. It is one of the airs in Arne's Artaxerxes, an opera which was produced in 1761, and which held the stage for many years. There is a reference to this song in Sketches by Boz, when Miss Evans and her friends visited the Eagle. During the concert 'Miss Somebody in white satin' sang this air, much to the satisfaction of her audience.

Dickens wrote a few songs and ballads, and in most cases he fell in with the custom of his time, and suggested the tune (if any) to which they were to be sung. In addition to those that appear in the various novels, there are others which deserve mention here.

In 1841 he contributed three political squibs in verse to the Examiner, one being the 'Quack Doctor's Proclamation,' to the tune of 'A Cobbler there was,' and another called 'The fine old English Gentleman.'

For the Daily News (of which he was the first editor) he wrote 'The British Lion, a new song but an old story,' which was to be sung to the tune of the 'Great Sea Snake.' This was a very popular comic song of the period, which described a sea monster of wondrous size:

One morning from his head we bore With every stitch of sail, And going at ten knots an hour In six months came to his tail.

Three of the songs in the Pickwick Papers (referred to elsewhere) are original, while Blandois' song in Little Dorrit, 'Who passes by this road so late,' is a translation from the French. This was set to music by R.S. Dalton.

In addition to these we find here and there impromptu lines which have no connexion with any song. Perhaps the best known are those which 'my lady Bowley' quotes in The Chimes, and which she had 'set to music on the new system':

Oh let us love our occupations, Bless the squire and his relations, Live upon our daily rations, And always know our proper stations.

The reference to the 'new system' is not quite obvious. Dickens may have been thinking of the 'Wilhem' method of teaching singing which his friend Hullah introduced into England, or it may be a reference to the Tonic Sol-fa system, which had already begun to make progress when The Chimes was written in 1844.[7]

There are some well-known lines which owners of books were fond of writing on the fly-leaf in order that there might be no mistake as to the name of the possessor. The general form was something like this:

John Wigglesworth is my name, And England is my nation; London is my dwelling-place, And Christ is my salvation.

(See Choir, Jan., 1912, p. 5.) Dickens gives us at least two variants of this. In Edwin Drood, Durdles says of the Mayor of Cloisterham:

Mister Sapsea is his name, England is his nation, Cloisterham's his dwelling-place, Aukshneer's his occupation.

And Captain Cuttle thus describes himself, ascribing the authorship of the words to Job—but then literary accuracy was not the Captain's strong point:

Cap'en Cuttle is my name, And England is my nation, This here is my dwelling-place, And blessed be creation.

It is said that there appeared in the London Singer's Magazine for 1839 'The Teetotal Excursion, an original Comic Song by Boz, sung at the London Concerts,' but it is not in my copy of this song-book, nor have I ever seen it.

Dickens was always very careful in his choice of names and titles, and the evolution of some of the latter is very interesting. One of the many he conceived for the magazine which was to succeed Household Words was Household Harmony, while another was Home Music. Considering his dislike of bells in general, it is rather surprising that two other suggestions were English Bells and Weekly Bells, but the final choice was All the Year Round. Only once does he make use of a musician's name in his novels, and that is in Great Expectations. Philip, otherwise known as Pip, the hero, becomes friendly with Herbert Pocket. The latter objects to the name Philip, 'it sounds like a moral boy out of a spelling-book,' and as Pip had been a blacksmith and the two youngsters were 'harmonious,' Pocket asks him:

'Would you mind Handel for a familiar name? There's a charming piece of music, by Handel, called the "Harmonious Blacksmith."'

'I should like it very much.'

Dickens' only contribution to hymnology appeared in the Daily News February 14, 1846, with the title 'Hymn of the Wiltshire Labourers.' It was written after reading a speech at one of the night meetings of the wives of agricultural labourers in Wiltshire, held with the object of petitioning for Free Trade. This is the first verse:

O God, who by Thy Prophet's hand Did'st smite the rocky brake, Whence water came at Thy command Thy people's thirst to slake, Strike, now, upon this granite wall, Stern, obdurate, and high; And let some drop of pity fall For us who starve and die!

We find the fondness for Italian names shown by vocalists and pianists humorously parodied in such self-evident forms as Jacksonini, Signora Marra Boni, and Billsmethi. Banjo Bones is a self-evident nom d'occasion, and the high-sounding name of Rinaldo di Velasco ill befits the giant Pickleson (Dr. M.), who had a little head and less in it. As it was essential that the Miss Crumptons of Minerva House should have an Italian master for their pupils, we find Signer Lobskini introduced, while the modern rage for Russian musicians is to some extent anticipated in Major Tpschoffki of the Imperial Bulgraderian Brigade (G.S.). His real name, if he ever had one, is said to have been Stakes.

Dickens has little to say about the music of his time, but in the reprinted paper called Old Lamps for New Ones (written in 1850), which is a strong condemnation of pre-Raphaelism in art, he attacks a similar movement in regard to music, and makes much fun of the Brotherhood. He detects their influence in things musical, and writes thus:

In Music a retrogressive step in which there is much hope, has been taken. The P.A.B., or pre-Agincourt Brotherhood, has arisen, nobly devoted to consign to oblivion Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, and every other such ridiculous reputation, and to fix its Millennium (as its name implies) before the date of the first regular musical composition known to have been achieved in England. As this institution has not yet commenced active operations, it remains to be seen whether the Royal Academy of Music will be a worthy sister of the Royal Academy of Art, and admit this enterprising body to its orchestra. We have it, on the best authority, that its compositions will be quite as rough and discordant as the real old original.

Fourteen years later he makes use of a well-known phrase in writing to his friend Wills (October 8, 1864) in reference to the proofs of an article.

I have gone through the number carefully, and have been down upon Chorley's paper in particular, which was a 'little bit' too personal. It is all right now and good, and them's my sentiments too of the Music of the Future.[8]

Although there was little movement in this direction when Dickens wrote this, the paragraph makes interesting reading nowadays in view of some musical tendencies in certain quarters.

[1] In his speech at Birmingham on 'Literature and Art' (1853) he makes special reference to the 'great music of Mendelssohn.'

[2] Moore's Irish Melodies.

[3] Moore.

[4] 'Seven Dials! the region of song and poetry—first effusions and last dying speeches: hallowed by the names of Catnac and of Pitts, names that will entwine themselves with costermongers and barrel-organs, when penny magazines shall have superseded penny yards of song, and capital punishment be unknown!' (S.B.S. 5.)

[5] The 'Hutchinson family' was a musical troupe composed of three sons and two daughters selected from the 'Tribe of Jesse,' a name given to the sixteen children of Jesse and Mary Hutchinson, of Milford, N.H. They toured in England in 1845 and 1846, and were received with great enthusiasm. Their songs were on subjects connected with Temperance and Anti-Slavery. On one occasion Judson, one of the number, was singing the 'Humbugged Husband,' which he used to accompany with the fiddle, and he had just sung the line 'I'm sadly taken in,' when the stage where he was standing gave way and he nearly disappeared from view. The audience at first took this as part of the performance.

[6] Miss Rainforth was the soloist at the first production of Mendelssohn's 'Hear my Prayer.' (See The Choir, March, 1911.)

[7] John Curwen published his Grammar of Vocal Music in 1842.

[8] Quoted in Mr. R.C. Lehmann's Dickens as an Editor (1912).




Dickens' orchestras are limited, both in resources and in the number of performers; in fact, it would be more correct to call them combinations of instruments. Some of them are of a kind not found in modern works on instrumentation, as, for instance, at the party at Trotty Veck's (Ch.) when a 'band of music' burst into the good man's room, consisting of a drum, marrow-bones and cleavers, and bells, 'not the bells but a portable collection on a frame.' We gather from Leech's picture that other instrumentalists were also present. Sad to relate, the drummer was not quite sober, an unfortunate state of things, certainly, but not always confined to the drumming fraternity, since in the account of the Party at Minerva House (S.B.T.) we read that amongst the numerous arrivals were 'the pianoforte player and the violins: the harp in a state of intoxication.'

We have an occasional mention of a theatre orchestra, as, for instance, when the Phenomenon was performing at Portsmouth (N.N.):

'Ring in the orchestra, Grudden.'

That useful lady did as she was requested, and shortly afterwards the tuning of three fiddles was heard, which process, having been protracted as long as it was supposed that the patience of the orchestra could possibly bear it, was put a stop to by another jerk of the bell, which, being the signal to begin in earnest, set the orchestra playing a variety of popular airs with involuntary variations.

On one occasion Dickens visited Vauxhall Gardens by day, where 'a small party of dismal men in cocked hats were "executing" the overture to Tancredi,' but he does not, unfortunately, give us any details about the number or kind of instruments employed. This would be in 1836, when the experiment of day entertainments was given a trial, and a series of balloon ascents became the principal attraction. Forster tells us that Dickens was a frequent visitor at the numerous gardens and places of entertainment which abounded in London, and which he knew better than any other man. References will be found elsewhere to the music at the Eagle (p. 47) and the White Conduit Gardens (p. 93).

Violin and Kit.

We meet with but few players on the violin, and it is usually mentioned in connexion with other instruments, though it was to the strains of a solitary fiddle that Simon Tappertit danced a hornpipe for the delectation of his followers, while the same instrument supplied the music at the Fezziwig's ball.

In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches.

The orchestra at the 'singing-house' provided for Jack's amusement when ashore (U.T. 5) consisted of a fiddle and tambourine; while at dances the instruments were fiddles and harps. It was the harps that first aroused Mr. Jingle's curiosity, as he met them being carried up the staircase of The Bull at Rochester, while, shortly after, the tuning of both harps and fiddles inspired Mr. Tupman with a strong desire to go to the ball. Sometimes the orchestra is a little more varied. At the private theatricals which took place at Mrs. Gattleton's (S.B.T. 9), the selected instruments were a piano, flute, and violoncello, but there seems to have been a want of proper rehearsal.

Ting, ting, ting! went the prompter's bell at eight o'clock precisely, and dash went the orchestra into the overture to the Men of Prometheus. The pianoforte player hammered away with laudable perseverance, and the violoncello, which struck in at intervals, sounded very well, considering. The unfortunate individual, however, who had undertaken to play the flute accompaniment 'at sight' found, from fatal experience, the perfect truth of the old adage, 'Out of sight, out of mind'; for being very near-sighted, and being placed at a considerable distance from his music-book, all he had an opportunity of doing was to play a bar now and then in the wrong place, and put the other performers out. It is, however, but justice to Mr. Brown to say that he did this to admiration. The overture, in fact, was not unlike a race between the different instruments; the piano came in first by several bars, and the violoncello next, quite distancing the poor flute; for the deaf gentleman too-too'd away, quite unconscious that he was at all wrong, until apprised, by the applause of the audience, that the overture was concluded.

It was probably after this that the pianoforte player fainted away, owing to the heat, and left the music of Masaniello to the other two. There were differences between these remaining musicians and Mr. Harleigh, who played the title role, the orchestra complaining that 'Mr. Harleigh put them out, while the hero declared that the orchestra prevented his singing a note.'

It was to the strains of a wandering harp and fiddle that Marion and Grace Jeddler danced 'a trifle in the Spanish style,' much to their father's astonishment as he came bustling out to see who 'played music on his property before breakfast.'

The little fiddle commonly known as a 'kit' that dancing-masters used to carry in their capacious tail coat pockets was much more in evidence in the middle of last century than it is now. Caddy Jellyby (B.H.), after her marriage to a dancing-master, found a knowledge of the piano and the kit essential, and so she used to practise them assiduously. When Sampson Brass hears Kit's name for the first time he says to Swiveller:

'Strange name—name of a dancing-master's fiddle, eh, Mr. Richard?'

We must not forget the story of a fine young Irish gentleman, as told by the one-eyed bagman to Mr. Pickwick and his friends, who,

being asked if he could play the fiddle, replied he had no doubt he could, but he couldn't exactly say for certain, because he had never tried.


Mr. Morfin (D. & S.), 'a cheerful-looking, hazel-eyed elderly bachelor,' was

a great musical amateur—in his way—after business, and had a paternal affection for his violoncello, which was once in every week transported from Islington, his place of abode, to a certain club-room hard by the Bank, where quartets of the most tormenting and excruciating nature were executed every Wednesday evening by a private party.

His habit of humming his musical recollections of these evenings was a source of great annoyance to Mr. James Carker, who devoutly wished 'that he would make a bonfire of his violoncello, and burn his books with it.' There was only a thin partition between the rooms which these two gentlemen occupied, and on another occasion Mr. Morfin performed an extraordinary feat in order to warn the manager of his presence.

I have whistled, hummed tunes, gone accurately through the whole of Beethoven's Sonata in B, to let him know that I was within hearing, but he never heeded me.

This particular sonata has not hitherto been identified.

It is comforting to know that the fall of the House of Dombey made no difference to Mr. Morfin, who continued to solace himself by producing 'the most dismal and forlorn sounds out of his violoncello before going to bed,' a proceeding which had no effect on his deaf landlady, beyond producing 'a sensation of something rumbling in her bones.'

Nor were the quartet parties interfered with. They came round regularly, his violoncello was in good tune, and there was nothing wrong in his world. Happy Mr. Morfin!

Another 'cellist was the Rev. Charles Timson, who, when practising his instrument in his bedroom, used to give strict orders that he was on no account to be disturbed.

It was under the pretence of buying 'a second-hand wiolinceller' that Bucket visited the house of the dealer in musical instruments in order to effect the arrest of Mr. George (B.H.).


The harp was a fashionable drawing-room instrument in the early Victorian period, although the re-introduction of the guitar temporarily detracted from its glory. It was also indispensable in providing music for dancing-parties and concerts. When Esther Summerson went to call on the Turveydrops (B.H.) she found the hall blocked up with a grand piano, a harp, and various other instruments which had been used at a concert. As already stated, it was the sight of these instruments being carried up the stairs at The Bull in Rochester that aroused Mr. Jingle's curiosity (P.P.) and led to the discovery that a ball was in prospect.

We must not forget the eldest Miss Larkins, one of David Copperfield's early, fleeting loves. He used to wander up and down outside the home of his beloved and watch the officers going in to hear Miss L. play the harp. On hearing of her engagement to one of these he mourned for a very brief period, and then went forth and gloriously defeated his old enemy the butcher boy. What a contrast between this humour and the strange scene in the drawing-room at James Steerforth's home after Rosa Dartle had sung the strange weird Irish song to the accompaniment of her harp! And how different, again, the scene in the home of Scrooge's nephew (C.C.) when, after tea, 'they had some music.'

Scrooge's niece played well upon the harp; and played, among other things, a simple little air.

It reminded Scrooge of a time long past.

He softened more and more; and thought that if he could have listened to it often, years ago, he might have cultivated the kindnesses of life for his own happiness with his own hand.

Little Paul Dombey told Lady Skettles at the breaking-up party that he was very fond of music, and he was very, very proud of his sister's accomplishments both as player and singer. Did they inherit this love from their father? 'You are fond of music,' said the Hon. Mrs. Skewton to Mr. Dombey during an interval in a game of picquet. 'Eminently so,' was the reply. But the reader must not take him at his word. When Edith (the future Mrs. Dombey) entered the room and sat down to her harp,

Mr. Dombey rose and stood beside her, listening. He had little taste for music, and no knowledge of the strain she played; but he saw her bending over it, and perhaps he heard among the sounding strings some distant music of his own.

Yet when she went to the piano and commenced to sing Mr. Dombey did not know that it was 'the air that his neglected daughter sang to his dead son'!


Lady musicians are numerous, and of very varied degrees of excellence. Amongst the pianists is Miss Teresa Malderton, who nearly fell a prey to that gay deceiver Mr. Horatio Sparkins (S.B.T. 5). Her contribution to a musical evening was 'The Fall of Paris,' played, as Mr. Sparkins declared, in a masterly manner.

There was a song called 'The Fall of Paris,' but it is most probable that Dickens was thinking of a very popular piece which he must have often heard in his young days, of which the full title was

THE SURRENDER OF PARIS. A characteristic Divertimento for the Pianoforte, including the events from the Duke of Wellington and Prince Blucher's marching to that capital to the evacuation by the French troops and taking possession by the Allies, composed by Louis Jansen, 1816.

Not the least curious section of this piece of early programme music is a moderato recording the various articles of the capitulation. These are eighteen in number, and each has its own 'theme.' The interspersion of some discords seems to imply serious differences of opinion between the parties to the treaty.

There was also a song called 'The Downfall of Paris,' the first verse of which was

Great news I have to tell you all, Of Bonaparte and a' that; How Paris it has got a fall, He's lost his plans and a' that.


Rise up, John Bull, rise up and sing, Your chanter loudly blaw that; Lang live our auld and worthy king, Success to Britain, a' that.

The instrument beloved of Miss Tox (D. & S.) was the harpsichord, and her favourite piece was the 'Bird Waltz,' while the 'Copenhagen Waltz' was also in her repertoire. Two notes of the instrument were dumb from disuse, but their silence did not impoverish the rendering. Caddy Jellyby found it necessary to know something of the piano, in order that she might instruct the 'apprentices' at her husband's dancing-school. Another performer was Mrs. Namby, who entertained Mr. Pickwick with solos on a square piano while breakfast was being prepared. When questioned by David Copperfield as to the gifts of Miss Sophy Crewler, Traddles explained that she knew enough of the piano to teach it to her little sisters, and she also sang ballads to freshen up her family a little when they were out of spirits, but 'nothing scientific.' The guitar was quite beyond her. David noted with much satisfaction (though he did not say so) that his Dora was much more gifted musically.

When Dickens wrote his earlier works it was not considered the correct thing for a gentleman to play the piano, though it might be all very well for the lower classes and the music teacher. Consequently we read of few male performers on the instrument. Mr. Skimpole could play the piano, and of course Jasper had a 'grand' in his room at Cloisterham.

At one time, if we may believe the turnkey at the Marshalsea prison, William Dorrit had been a pianist, a fact which raised him greatly in the turnkey's opinion.

Brought up as a gentleman, he was, if ever a man was. Educated at no end of expense. Went into the Marshal's house once to try a new piano for him. Played it, I understand, like one o'clock—beautiful.

In the Collected Papers we have a picture of the 'throwing off young gentleman,' who strikes a note or two upon the piano, and accompanies it correctly (by dint of laborious practice) with his voice. He assures

a circle of wondering listeners that so acute was his ear that he was wholly unable to sing out of tune, let him try as he would.

Mr. Weller senior laid a deep plot in which a piano was to take a prominent part. His object was to effect Mr. Pickwick's escape from the Fleet.

Me and a cab'net-maker has dewised a plan for gettin' him out. 'A pianner, Samivel, a pianner,' said Mr. Weller, striking his son on the chest with the back of his hand, and falling back a step or two.

'Wot do you mean?' said Sam.

'A pianner-forty, Samivel,' rejoined Mr. Weller, in a still more mysterious manner, 'as he can have on hire; vun as von't play, Sammy.'

'And wot 'ud be the good of that?' said Sam.

'There ain't no vurks in it,' whispered his father. 'It 'ull hold him easy, vith his hat and shoes on; and breathe through the legs, vich is holler.'

But the usually dutiful Sam showed so little enthusiasm for his father's scheme that nothing more was heard of it.





We find several references to the flute, and Dickens contrives to get much innocent fun out of it. First comes Mr. Mell, who used to carry his instrument about with him and who, in response to his mother's invitation to 'have a blow at it' while David Copperfield was having his breakfast, made, said David, 'the most dismal sounds I have ever heard produced by any means, natural or artificial.' After he had finished he unscrewed his flute into three pieces, and deposited them underneath the skirts of his coat.

Dickens' schoolmasters seem to have been partial to the flute. Mr. Squeers, it is true, was not a flautist, but Mr. Feeder, B.A., was, or rather he was going to be. When little Paul Dombey visited his tutor's room he saw 'a flute which Mr. Feeder couldn't play yet, but was going to make a point of learning, he said, hanging up over the fireplace.'

He also had a beautiful little curly second-hand 'key bugle,' which was also on the list of things to be accomplished on some future occasion, in fact he has unlimited confidence in the power and influence of music. Here is his advice to the love-stricken Mr. Toots, whom he recommends to

learn the guitar, or at least the flute; for women like music when you are paying your addresses to 'em, and he has found the advantage of it himself.

The flute was the instrument that Mr. Richard Swiveller took to when he heard that Sophy Wackles was lost to him for ever,

thinking that it was a good, sound, dismal occupation, not only in unison with his own sad thoughts, but calculated to awaken a fellow feeling in the bosoms of his neighbours.

So he got out his flute, arranged the light and a small oblong music-book to the best advantage, and began to play 'most mournfully.'

The air was 'Away with Melancholy,' a composition which, when it is played very slowly on the flute, in bed, with the further disadvantage of being performed by a gentleman but imperfectly acquainted with the instrument, who repeats one note a great many times before he can find the next, has not a lively effect.

So Mr. Swiveller spent half the night or more over this pleasing exercise, merely stopping now and then to take breath and soliloquize about the Marchioness; and it was only after he 'had nearly maddened the people of the house, and at both the next doors, and over the way,' that he shut up the book and went to sleep. The result of this was that the next morning he got a notice to quit from his landlady, who had been in waiting on the stairs for that purpose since the dawn of day.

Jack Redburn, too (M.H.C.), seems to have found consolation in this instrument, spending his wet Sundays in 'blowing a very slow tune on the flute.'

There is one, and only one, recorded instance of this very meek instrument suddenly asserting itself by going on strike, and that is in the sketch entitled Private Theatres (S.B.S. 13), where the amateurs take so long to dress for their parts that 'the flute says he'll be blowed if he plays any more.'

We must on no account forget the serenade with which the gentlemen boarders proposed to honour the Miss Pecksniffs. The performance was both vocal and instrumental, and the description of the flute-player is delightful.

It was very affecting, very. Nothing more dismal could have been desired by the most fastidious taste.... The youngest gentleman blew his melancholy into a flute. He didn't blow much out of it, but that was all the better.

After a description of the singing we have more about the flute.

The flute of the youngest gentleman was wild and fitful. It came and went in gusts, like the wind. For a long time together he seemed to have left off, and when it was quite settled by Mrs. Todgers and the young ladies that, overcome by his feelings, he had retired in tears, he unexpectedly turned up again at the very top of the tune, gasping for breath. He was a tremendous performer. There was no knowing where to have him; and exactly when you thought he was doing nothing at all, then was he doing the very thing that ought to astonish you most.

Yet another performer is the domestic young gentleman (C.P.) who holds skeins of silk for the ladies to wind, and who then

brings down his flute in compliance with a request from the youngest Miss Gray, and plays divers tunes out of a very small book till supper-time.

When Nancy went to the prison to look for Oliver Twist, she found nobody in durance vile except a man who had been taken up for playing the flute, and who was bewailing the loss of the same, which had been confiscated for the use of the county.

The gentleman who played the violoncello at Mrs. Gattleton's party has already been referred to, and it only remains to mention Mr. Evans, who 'had such lovely whiskers' and who played the flute on the same occasion, to bring the list of players to an end.


We meet with a remarkable musician in Dombey and Son in the person of Harriet Carker's visitor, a scientific one, according to the description:

A certain skilful action of his fingers as he hummed some bars, and beat time on the seat beside him, seemed to denote the musician; and the extraordinary satisfaction he derived from humming something very slow and long, which had no recognizable tune, seemed to denote that he was a scientific one.

A less capable performer was Sampson Brass, who hummed

in a voice that was anything but musical certain vocal snatches which appeared to have reference to the union between Church and State, inasmuch as they were compounded of the Evening Hymn and 'God Save the King.'

Musicians of various degrees abound in the Sketches. Here is Mr. Wisbottle, whistling 'The Light Guitar' at five o'clock in the morning, to the intense disgust of Mr. John Evenson, a fellow boarder at Mrs. Tibbs'. Subsequently he came down to breakfast in blue slippers and a shawl dressing-gown, whistling 'Di piacer.' Mr. Evenson can no longer control his feelings, and threatens to start the triangle if his enemy will not stop his early matutinal music. A suggested name for this whistler is the 'humming-top,' from his habit of describing semi-circles on the piano stool, and 'humming most melodiously.' There are a number of characters who indulge in the humming habit either to cover their confusion, or as a sign of light-heartedness and contentment. Prominent amongst these are Pecksniff, who, like Morfin, hums melodiously, and Micawber, who can both sing and hum. Nor must we omit to mention Miss Petowker, who 'hummed a tune' as her contribution to the entertainment at Mrs. Kenwigs' party. Many of the characters resort to humming to conceal their temporary discomfiture, and perhaps no one ever hummed under more harassing circumstances than when Mr. Pecksniff had to go to the door to let in some very unwelcome guests, who had already knocked several times. But he was a past master in the art of dissimulation. He is particularly anxious to conceal from his visitors the fact that Jonas Chuzzlewit is in the house. So he says to the latter—

'This may be a professional call. Indeed I am pretty sure it is. Thank you.' Then Mr. Pecksniff, gently warbling a rustic stave, put on his garden hat, seized a spade, and opened the street door; calmly appearing on the threshold as if he thought he had, from his vineyard, heard a modest rap, but was not quite certain.

Then he tells his visitors 'I do a little bit of Adam still.' He certainly had a good deal of the old Adam in him.


The clarionet is associated with the fortunes of Mr. Frederick Dorrit, who played the instrument at the theatre where his elder niece was a dancer, and where Little Dorrit sought an engagement. After the rehearsal was over she and her sister went to take him home.

He had been in that place six nights a week for many years, but had never been observed to raise his eyes above his music-book.... The carpenters had a joke that he was dead without being aware of it.

At the theatre he had no part in what was going on except the part written for the clarionet. In his young days his house had been the resort of singers and players. When the fortunes of the family changed his clarionet was taken away from him, on the ground that it was a 'low instrument.' It was subsequently restored to him, but he never played it again.

Of quite a different stamp was one of the characters in Going into Society, who played the clarionet in a band at a Wild Beast Show, and played it all wrong. He was somewhat eccentric in dress, as he had on 'a white Roman shirt and a bishop's mitre covered with leopard skin.' We are told nothing about him, except that he refused to know his old friends. In his story of the Seven Poor Travellers Dickens found the clarionet-player of the Rochester Waits so communicative that he accompanied the party across an open green called the Vines,

and assisted—in the French sense—at the performance of two waltzes, two polkas, and three Irish melodies.


A notable bassoon player was Mr. Bagnet, who had a voice somewhat resembling his instrument. The ex-artilleryman kept a little music shop in a street near the Elephant and Castle. There were

a few fiddles in the window, and some Pan's pipes and a tambourine, and a triangle, and certain elongated scraps of music.

It was to this shop that Bucket the detective came under the pretence of wanting a second-hand 'wiolinceller' (see p. 29). In the course of conversation it turns out that Master Bagnet (otherwise 'Woolwich') 'plays the fife beautiful,' and he performs some popular airs for the benefit of his audience. Mr. Bucket also claims to have played the fife himself when a boy, 'not in a scientific way, but by ear.'


Two references to the bagpipes deserve notice. One is in David Copperfield, where the novelist refers to his own early experiences as a shorthand reporter. He has no high opinion of the speeches he used to take down.

One joyful night, therefore, I noted down the music of the parliamentary bagpipes for the last time, and I have never heard it since; though I still recognize the old drone in the newspapers.

In O.M.F. (II.) we read of Charley Hexam's fellow pupils keeping themselves awake

by maintaining a monotonous droning noise, as if they were performing, out of time and tune, on a ruder sort of bagpipe.

The peculiar subdued noise caused by a lot of children in a school is certainly suggestive of the instrument.


Little is said about the trombone. We are told, in reference to the party at Dr. Strong's (D.C.), that the good Doctor knew as much about playing cards as he did about 'playing the trombone.' In 'Our School' (R.P.) we are told a good deal about the usher who 'made out the bills, mended the pens, and did all sorts of things.'

He was rather musical, and on some remote quarter-day had bought an old trombone; but a bit of it was lost, and it made the most extraordinary sounds when he sometimes tried to play it of an evening.

In a similarly dismembered state was the flute which Dickens once saw in a broker's shop. It was 'complete with the exception of the middle joint.'

This naturally calls to mind the story of the choir librarian who was putting away the vocal parts of a certain funeral anthem. After searching in vain for two missing numbers he was obliged to label the parcel

'His body is buried in peace.' Two parts missing.


The references to the organ are both numerous and interesting, and it is pretty evident that this instrument had a great attraction for Dickens. The gentle Tom Pinch (M.C.), whom Gissing calls 'a gentleman who derives his patent of gentility direct from God Almighty,' first claims our attention. He used to play the organ at the village church 'for nothing.' It was a simple instrument, 'the sweetest little organ you ever heard,' provided with wind by the action of the musician's feet, and thus Tom was independent of a blower, though he was so beloved that

there was not a man or boy in all the village and away to the turnpike (tollman included) but would have blown away for him till he was black in the face.

What a delight it must have been to him to avail himself of the opportunity to play the organ in the cathedral when he went to meet Martin!

As the grand tones resounded through the church they seemed, to Tom, to find an echo in the depth of every ancient tomb, no less than in the deep mystery of his own heart.

And he would have gone on playing till midnight 'but for a very earthy verger,' who insisted on locking up the cathedral and turning him out.

On one occasion, while he was practising at the church, the miserable Pecksniff entered the building and, hiding behind a pew, heard the conversation between Tom and Mary that led to the former being dismissed from the architect's office, so he had to leave his beloved organ, and mightily did the poor fellow miss it when he went to London! Being an early riser, he had been accustomed to practise every morning, and now he was reduced to taking long walks about London, a poor substitute indeed!

Nor was the organ the only instrument that he could play, for we read how he would spend half his nights poring over the 'jingling anatomy of that inscrutable old harpsichord in the back parlour,' and amongst the household treasures that he took to London were his music and an old fiddle.

The picture which forms our frontispiece shows Tom Pinch playing his favourite instrument. At the sale of the original drawings executed by 'Phiz' for Martin Chuzzlewit this frontispiece, which is an epitome of the salient characters and scenes in the novel, was sold for L35.

We read in Christmas Stories that

Silas Jorgan Played the organ,

but we are not told the name of the artist who at the concert at the Eagle (S.B.C. 4) accompanied a comic song on the organ—and such an organ!

Miss J'mima Ivins's friend's young man whispered it had cost 'four hundred pound,' which Mr. Samuel Wilkins said was 'not dear neither.'

The singer was probably either Howell or Glindon. Dickens appears to have visited the Eagle Tavern in 1835 or 1836. It was then a notable place of entertainment consisting of gardens with an orchestra, and the 'Grecian Saloon,' which was furnished with an organ and a 'self-acting piano.' Here concerts were given every evening, which in Lent took a sacred turn, and consisted of selections from Handel and Mozart. In 1837 the organ was removed, and a new one erected by Parsons.

The Eagle gained a wide reputation through its being introduced into a once popular song.

Up and down the City Road, In and out the Eagle, That's the way the money goes, Pop goes the weasel.

This verse was subsequently modified (for nursery purposes) thus:

Half a pound of tuppenny rice, Half a pound of treacle, That's the way the money goes,[9] Pop goes the weasel.

Many explanations have been given of 'weasel.' Some say it was a purse made of weasel skin; others that it was a tailor's flat-iron which used to be pawned (or 'popped') to procure the needful for admission to the tavern. A third (and more intelligible) suggestion is that the line is simply a catch phrase, without any meaning.

There is a notable reference to the organ in Little Dorrit. Arthur Clennam goes to call on old Frederick Dorrit, the clarionet player, and is directed to the house where he lived. 'There were so many lodgers in this house that the door-post seemed to be as full of bell handles as a cathedral organ is of stops,' and Clennam hesitates for a time, 'doubtful which might be the clarionet stop.'

Further on in the same novel we are told that it was the organ that Mrs. Finching was desirous of learning.

I have said ever since I began to recover the blow of Mr. F's death that I would learn the organ of which I am extremely fond but of which I am ashamed to say I do not yet know a note.

The following fine description of the tones of an organ occurs in The Chimes:

The organ sounded faintly in the church below. Swelling by degrees the melody ascended to the roof, and filled the choir and nave. Expanding more and more, it rose up, up; up, up; higher, higher, higher up; awakening agitated hearts within the burly piles of oak, the hollow bells, the iron-bound doors, the stairs of solid stone; until the tower walls were insufficient to contain it, and it soared into the sky.

The effect of this on Trotty Veck was very different from that which another organ had on the benevolent old lady we read of in Our Parish. She subscribed L20 towards a new instrument for the parish church, and was so overcome when she first heard it that she had to be carried out by the pew-opener.

There are various references to the organs in the City churches, and probably the description of one of them given in Dombey and Son would suit most instruments of the period.

The organ rumbled and rolled as if it had got the colic, for want of a congregation to keep the wind and damp out.


In real life the barrel-organ was a frequent source of annoyance to Dickens, who found its ceaseless strains very trying when he was busy writing, and who had as much trouble in evicting the grinders as David Copperfield's aunt had with the donkeys.

However, he takes a very mild revenge on this deservedly maligned instrument in his works, and the references are, as usual, of a humorous character. A barrel-organ formed a part of the procession to celebrate the election of Mr. Tulrumble[10] as Mayor of Mudfog, but the player put on the wrong stop, and played one tune while the band played another.

This instrument had an extraordinary effect on Major Tpschoffki, familiarly and more easily known as 'Chops,' the dwarf, 'spirited but not proud,' who was desirous of 'Going into Society' (G.S.), and who had got it into his head that he was entitled to property:

His ideas respectin' his property never come upon him so strong as when he sat upon a barrel-organ, and had the handle turned. Arter the wibration had run through him a little time he would screech out, 'Toby, I feel my property coming—grind away! I'm counting my guineas by thousands, Toby—grind away! Toby, I shall be a man of fortun! I feel the Mint a-jingling in me, Toby, and I'm swelling out into the Bank of England.' Such is the influence of music on a poetic mind.

Dickens found the streets in New York very different from those in London, and specially remarks how quiet they were—no itinerant musicians or showmen of any kind. He could only remember hearing one barrel-organ with a dancing-monkey. 'Beyond that, nothing lively, no, not so much as a white mouse in a twirling cage.'

We must not forget that he has two references to pipe organs in his American Notes. When he visited the Blind School at Boston he heard a voluntary played on the organ by one of the pupils, while at St. Louis he was informed that the Jesuit College was to be supplied with an organ sent from Belgium.

The barrel-organ brings to mind Jerry and his troupe of dancing-dogs (O.C.S.), especially the unfortunate animal who had lost a halfpenny during the day, and consequently had to go without his supper. In fact, his master made the punishment fit the crime; for, having set the stop, he made the dog play the organ while the rest had their evening meal.

When the knives and forks rattled very much, or any of his fellows got an unusually large piece of fat, he accompanied the music with a short howl; but he immediately checked it on his master looking round and applied himself with increased diligence to the Old Hundredth.

In Dombey and Son there is a very apt comparison of Mr. Feeder, B.A., to this instrument. He was Doctor Blimber's assistant master, and was entrusted with the education of little Paul.

Mr. Feeder, B.A. ... was a kind of human barrel-organ with a little list of tunes at which he was continually working, over and over again, without any variation. He might have been fitted up with a change of barrels, perhaps, in early life, if his destiny had been favourable, but it had not been.

So he had only one barrel, his sole occupation being to 'bewilder the young ideas of Dr. Blimber's young gentlemen.' Sometimes he had his Virgil stop on, and at other times his Herodotus stop. In trying to keep up the comparison, however, Dickens makes a curious mistake. In the above quotation Feeder is assigned one barrel only, while in Chapter XLI we are told that he had 'his other barrels on a shelf behind him.'

We find another comparison in Little Dorrit, when the long-suffering Pancks turns round on Casby, his employer, and exposes his hypocrisy. Pancks, who has had much difficulty in getting his master's rents from the tenants, makes up his mind to leave him; and before doing so he tells the whole truth about Casby to the inhabitants of Bleeding Heart Yard. 'Here's the Stop,' said Pancks, 'that sets the tune to be ground. And there is but one tune, and its name is "Grind! Grind! Grind!"'


Although the guitar was a fashionable instrument sixty years ago, there are but few references to it. This was the instrument that enabled the three Miss Briggses, each of them performers, to eclipse the glory of the Miss Tauntons, who could only manage a harp. On the eventful day of 'The Steam Excursion' (S.B.) the three sisters brought their instruments, carefully packed up in dark green cases,

which were carefully stowed away in the bottom of the boat, accompanied by two immense portfolios of music, which it would take at least a week's incessant playing to get through.

At a subsequent stage of the proceedings they were asked to play, and after replacing a broken string, and a vast deal of screwing and tightening, they gave 'a new Spanish composition, for three voices and three guitars,' and secured an encore, thus completely overwhelming their rivals. In the account of the French Watering-Place (R.P.) we read about a guitar on the pier, 'to which a boy or woman sings without any voice little songs without any tune.'

On one of his night excursions in the guise of an 'Uncommercial Traveller' Dickens discovered a stranded Spaniard, named Antonio. In response to a general invitation 'the swarthy youth' takes up his cracked guitar and gives them the 'feeblest ghost of a tune,' while the inmates of the miserable den kept time with their heads.

Dora used to delight David Copperfield by singing enchanting ballads in the French language and accompanying herself 'on a glorified instrument, resembling a guitar,' though subsequent references show it was that instrument and none other.

We read in Little Dorrit that Young John Chivery wore 'pantaloons so highly decorated with side stripes, that each leg was a three-stringed lute.' This appears to be the only reference to this instrument, and a lute of three strings is the novelist's own conception, the usual number being about nine.

[9] Or, 'Mix it up and make it nice.'

[10] The Public Life of Mr. Tulrumble, 1837.



Many musical instruments and terms are mentioned by way of illustration. Blathers, the Bow Street officer (O.T.), plays carelessly with his handcuffs as if they were a pair of castanets. Miss Miggs (B.R.) clanks her pattens as if they were a pair of cymbals. Mr. Bounderby (H.T.), during his conversation with Harthouse,

with his hat in his hand, gave a beat upon the crown at every division of his sentences, as if it were a tambourine;

and in the same work the electric wires rule 'a colossal strip of music-paper out of the evening sky.'

Perhaps the most extraordinary comparison is that instituted by Mrs. Lirriper in reference to her late husband.

My poor Lirriper was a handsome figure of a man, with a beaming eye and a voice as mellow as a musical instrument made of honey and steel.

What a vivid imagination the good woman had! Her descriptive powers remind us of those possessed by Mrs. Gamp in speaking of the father of the mysterious Mrs. Harris.

As pleasant a singer, Mr. Chuzzlewit, as ever you heerd, with a voice like a Jew's-harp in the bass notes.

There are many humorous references to remarkable performances on various instruments more or less musical in their nature. During the election at Eatanswill the crier performed two concertos on his bell, and shortly afterwards followed them up with a fantasia on the same instrument. Dickens suffered much from church bells, and gives vent to his feelings about them in Little Dorrit, where he says that

Maddening church bells of all degrees of dissonance, sharp and flat, cracked and clear, fast and slow, made the brick-and-mortar echoes hideous.

In his Pictures from Italy he wrote thus:

At Genoa the bells of the church ring incessantly, not in peals, or any known form of sound, but in horrible, irregular, jerking dingle, dingle, dingle; with a sudden stop at every fifteenth dingle or so, which is maddening.... The noise is supposed to be particularly obnoxious to evil spirits.

But it was these same bells, which he found so maddening, that inspired him with the title of a well-known story. He had chosen a subject, but was at a loss for a name. As he sat working one morning there suddenly rose up from Genoa

the clang and clash of all its steeples, pouring into his ears, again and again, in a tuneless, grating, discordant jerking, hideous vibration that made his ideas spin round and round till they lost themselves in a whirl of vexation and giddiness, and dropped down dead.... Only two days later came a letter in which not a syllable was written but 'We have heard THE CHIMES at midnight, Master Shallow,' and I knew he had discovered what he wanted.[11]

Yet, in spite of all this, Dickens shows—through his characters—a deep interest in bells and bell-lore. Little Paul Dombey finds a man mending the clocks at Dr. Blimber's Academy, and asks a multitude of questions about chimes and clocks; as, whether people watched up in the lonely church steeples by night to make them strike, and how the bells were rung when people died, and whether those were different bells from wedding-bells, or only sounded dismal in the fancies of the living; and then the precocious small boy proceeds to give the astonished clockmaker some useful information about King Alfred's candles and curfew-bells.

As Smike and Nicholas tramp their long journey to Portsmouth they hear the sheep-bells tinkling on the downs. To Tom Pinch journeying Londonwards 'the brass work on the harness was a complete orchestra of little bells.'

What a terror the bells are to Jonas Chuzzlewit just before he starts on his evil journey! He hears

the ringers practising in a neighbouring church, and the clashing of their bells was almost maddening. Curse the clamouring bells! they seemed to know that he was listening at the door, and to proclaim it in a crowd of voices to all the town! Would they never be still? They ceased at last, and then the silence was so new and terrible that it seemed the prelude to some dreadful noise.

The boom of the bell is associated with many of the villains of the novels. Fagin hears it when under sentence of death. Blackpool and Carker hear the accusing bells when in the midst of planning their evil deeds.

We can read the characters of some by the way they ring a bell. The important little Mr. Bailey, when he goes to see his friend Poll Sweedlepipe (M.C.) 'came in at the door with a lunge, to get as much sound out of the bell as possible,' while Bob Sawyer gives a pull as if he would bring it up by the roots. Mr. Clennam pulls the rope with a hasty jerk, and Mr. Watkins Tottle with a faltering jerk, while Tom Pinch gives a gentle pull. And how angry Mr. Mantalini is with Newman Noggs because he keeps him

'ringing at this confounded old cracked tea-kettle of a bell, every tinkle of which is enough to throw a strong man into convulsions, upon my life and soul,—oh demmit.'

The introduction of electric bells has been a great trial to those who used to vent their wrath on the wire-pulled article or the earlier bell-rope, which used not infrequently to add unnecessary fuel by coming incontinently down on the head of the aggrieved one. What a pull the fierce gentleman must have given whose acquaintance Mr. Pickwick made when he was going to Bath! He had been kept waiting for his buttered toast, so he (Captain Dowler)

rang the bell with great violence, and told the waiter he'd better bring the toast in five seconds, or he'd know the reason why.

Dickens rang far more changes on the bells than there is space to enumerate; but I have shown to what extent he makes their sound a commentary on innumerable phases of life. A slight technical knowledge of bell phraseology is found in Barnaby Rudge (7), where he mentions the variations known as a 'triple bob major.' Finally there is an interesting reference in Master Humphrey's Clock to a use of the bell which has now passed into history. Belinda says in a postscript to a letter to Master Humphrey, 'The bellman, rendered impatient by delay, is ringing dreadfully in the passage'; while in a second PS. she says, 'I open this to say the bellman is gone, and that you must not expect it till the next post.'

In the old days it was the custom for the letter-carriers to collect letters by ringing a bell.

There is no doubt that a most extraordinary, certainly a most original, musical effect is that secured by Mr. George (B.H.), who had just finished smoking.

'Do you know what that tune is, Mr. Smallweed?' he adds, after breaking off to whistle one, accompanied on the table with the empty pipe.

'Tune,' replies the old man. 'No, we never have tunes here.'

'That's the "Dead March" in Saul. They bury soldiers to it, so it's the natural end of the subject.'

Surely a highly original way of bringing a conversation to a close!

This march is referred to in Our Mutual Friend, where Mr. Wilfer suggests that going through life with Mrs. Wilfer is like keeping time to the 'Dead March' in Saul, from which singular simile we may gather that this lady was not the liveliest of companions.

Several other instruments are casually mentioned. Mr. Hardy (S.B.T. 7) was a master of many accomplishments.

He could sing comic songs, imitate hackney coachmen and fowls, play airs on his chin, and execute concertos on the Jew's harp.

The champion 'chin' performer of the early Victorian period was Michael Boai, 'The celebrated chin melodist,' who was announced to perform 'some of his admired pieces' at many of the places of entertainment. There is another reference to this extraordinary way of producing music in Sketches by Boz, where Mrs. Tippin performed an air with variations on the guitar, 'accompanied on the chin by Master Tippin.' To return to Mr. Hardy, this gentleman was evidently deeply interested in all sorts and degrees of music, but he got out of his depth in a conversation with the much-travelled Captain Helves. After the three Miss Briggses had finished their guitar performances, Mr. Hardy approached the Captain with the question, 'Did you ever hear a Portuguese tambourine?'

'Did you ever hear a tom-tom, sir?' sternly inquired the Captain, who lost no opportunity of showing off his travels, real or pretended.

'A what?' asked Hardy, rather taken aback.

'A tom-tom.'


'Nor a gum-gum?'


'What is a gum-gum?' eagerly inquired several young ladies.

The question is unanswered to this day, though Hardy afterwards suggests it is another name for a humbug.

When Dickens visited the school where the half-time system was in force, he found the boys undergoing military and naval drill. A small boy played the fife while the others went through their exercises. After that a boys' band appeared, the youngsters being dressed in a neat uniform. Then came a choral class, who sang 'the praises of a summer's day to a harmonium.' In the arithmetical exercises the small piper excels (U.T. 29).

Wise as the serpent is the four feet of performer on the nearest approach to that instrument.

This was written when the serpent was practically extinct, but Dickens would be very familiar with the name of the instrument, and may have seen and heard it in churches in his younger days.

In referring to another boy's attempt at solving the arithmetical puzzles, he mentions the cymbals, combined with a faint memory of St. Paul.

I observe the player of the cymbals to dash at a sounding answer now and then rather than not cut in at all; but I take that to be in the way of his instrument.

In Great Expectations Mr. Wopsle, who is a parish clerk by profession, had an ambition not only to tread the boards, but to start off as Hamlet. His appearance was not a success, and the audience was derisive.

On his taking the recorders—very like a little black flute that had just been played in the orchestra and handed out at the door—he was called upon unanimously for 'Rule Britannia.'

Reference has already been made to Bucket's music-shop, so we must not forget to visit Caleb Plummer's little room, where there were

scores of melancholy little carts which, when the wheels went round, performed most doleful music. Many small fiddles, drums, and other instruments of torture.

The old man made a rude kind of harp specially for his poor blind daughter, and on which Dot used to play when she visited the toy-maker's. Caleb's musical contribution would be 'a Bacchanalian song, something about a sparkling bowl,' which much annoyed his grumpy employer.

'What! you're singing, are you?' said Tackleton, putting his head in at the door. 'Go it, I can't sing.'

Nobody would have suspected him of it. He hadn't what is generally termed a singing face, by any means.

The wonderful duet between the cricket and the kettle at the commencement of The Cricket on the Hearth certainly deserves mention, though it is rather difficult to know whether to class the performers as instrumentalists or singers. The kettle began it with a series of short vocal snorts, which at first it checked in the bud, but finally it burst into a stream of song, 'while the lid performed a sort of jig, and clattered like a deaf and dumb cymbal that had never known the use of its twin brother.' Then the cricket came in with its chirp, chirp, chirp, and at it they went in fierce rivalry until 'the kettle, being dead beat, boiled over, and was taken off the fire.'

Dickens was certainly partial to the cricket, for elsewhere (M.H.C.) we read of the clock that

makes cheerful music, like one of those chirping insects who delight in the warm hearth.

There are two or three references to the key bugle, which also used to be known as the Kent bugle. It was a popular instrument half a century ago, as the addition of keys gave it a much greater range of notes than the ordinary bugle possessed. A notable though inefficient performer was the driver who took Martin Chuzzlewit up to London.

He was musical, besides, and had a little key bugle in his pocket on which, whenever the conversation flagged, he played the first part of a great many tunes, and regularly broke down in the second.

This instrument was on Mr. Feeder's agenda.

Two more instruments demand our attention. At the marriage of Tackleton and May Fielding (C.H.) there were to be marrow-bones and cleavers, while to celebrate the union of Trotty Veck's daughter Meg and Richard they had a band including the aforesaid instruments and also the drum and the bells. It was formerly the custom for butchers' assistants to provide themselves with marrow-bones and cleavers for musical effects. Each cleaver was ground so that when it was struck with the bone it emitted a certain note.[12] A complete band would consist of eight men, with their cleavers so tuned as to give an octave of notes. After more or less practice they would offer their services as bandsmen on the occasion of marriage ceremonies, which they had a wonderful faculty for locating, and they would provide music (of a kind) ad libitum until the requisite fee was forthcoming. If their services were declined the butchers would turn up all the same, and make things very unpleasant for the marriage party. The custom dates from the eighteenth century, and though it has gradually fallen into disuse a marrow-bone and cleaver band is still available in London for those who want it. A band took part in a wedding ceremony at Clapham as recently as the autumn of 1911.

The following extract, referring to the second marriage of Mr. Dombey, shows what bridal parties had to put up with in the good old days:

The men who play the bells have got scent of the marriage; and the marrow-bones and cleavers too; and a brass band too. The first are practising in a back settlement near Battle-bridge[13]; the second put themselves in communication, through their chief, with Mr. Tomlinson, to whom they offer terms to be bought off; and the third, in the person of an artful trombone, lurks and dodges round the corner, waiting for some traitor-tradesman to reveal the place and hour of breakfast, for a bribe.

Other instruments casually referred to are the Pan's pipes, which in one place is also called a mouth-organ (S.B.S. 20), the flageolet, and the triangle. It is difficult to classify the walking-stick on which Mr. Jennings Rudolph played tunes before he went behind the parlour door and gave his celebrated imitations of actors, edgetools, and animals (S.B.C. 8).

[11] Forster, Life of Charles Dickens.

[12] This is rather a modern development.

[13] Near King's Cross Station (G.N.R.).



Dickens has not much to say about church music as such, but the references are interesting, inasmuch as they throw some light upon it during the earlier years of his life. In Our Parish (S.B.) we read about the old naval officer who

finds fault with the sermon every Sunday, says that the organist ought to be ashamed of himself, and offers to back himself for any amount to sing the psalms better than all the children put together.

This reminds us that during the first half of last century, and indeed later in many places, the church choir as we know it did not exist, and the leading of the singing was entrusted to the children of the charity school under the direction of the clerk, a custom which had existed since the seventeenth century. The chancel was never used for the choir, and the children sat up in the gallery at the west end, on either side of the organ. In a City church that Dickens attended the choir was limited to two girls. The organ was so out of order that he could 'hear more of the rusty working of the stops than of any music.' When the service began he was so depressed that, as he says,

I gave but little heed to our dull manner of ambling through the service; to the brisk clerk's manner of encouraging us to try a note or two at psalm time; to the gallery congregation's manner of enjoying a shrill duet, without a notion of time or tune; to the whity-brown man's manner of shutting the minister into the pulpit, and being very particular with the lock of the door, as if he were a dangerous animal.

Elsewhere he found in the choir gallery an 'exhausted charity school' of four boys and two girls. The congregations were small, a state of things which at any rate satisfied Mrs. Lirriper, who had a pew at St. Clement Danes and was 'partial to the evening service not too crowded.'

In Sunday under Three Heads we have a vivid picture of the state of things at a fashionable church. Carriages roll up, richly dressed people take their places and inspect each other through their glasses.

The organ peals forth, the hired singers commence a short hymn, and the congregation condescendingly rise, stare about them and converse in whispers.

Dickens passes from church to chapel. Here, he says,

the hymn is sung—not by paid singers, but by the whole assembly at the loudest pitch of their voices, unaccompanied by any musical instrument, the words being given out, two lines at a time, by the clerk.

It cannot be said that, as far as the music is concerned, either of these descriptions is exaggerated when we remember the time at which they were written (1838). Very few chapels in London had organs, or indeed instruments of any kind, and there is no doubt that the congregations, as a rule, did sing at the tops of their voices, a proceeding known under the more euphonious title of 'hearty congregational singing.'

He gives a far more favourable account of the music in the village church. In the essay just referred to he mentions the fact that he attended a service in a West of England church where the service 'was spoken—not merely read—by a grey-headed minister.'

The psalms were accompanied by a few instrumental performers, who were stationed in a small gallery extending across the church at the lower end; and the voices were led by the clerk, who, it was evident, derived no slight pride and gratification from this portion of the service.

But if the church music in England was not of a very high quality when Dickens wrote the above, it was, according to his own account, far superior to what he heard in certain churches in Italy. When in Rome he visited St. Peter's, where he was quite unimpressed by the music.

I have been infinitely more affected in many English cathedrals when the organ has been playing, and in many English country churches when the congregation have been singing.

On another occasion he attended church at Genoa on a feast day, and he writes thus about the music:

The organ played away lustily, and a full band did the like; while a conductor, in a little gallery opposite the band, hammered away on the desk before him, with a scroll, and a tenor, without any voice, sang. The band played one way, the organ played another, the singer went a third, and the unfortunate conductor banged and banged, and flourished his scroll on some principle of his own; apparently well satisfied with the whole performance. I never did hear such a discordant din.

Parish Clerks

We have but few references to parish clerks in the novels. Mr. Wopsle (G.E.)—whom Mr. Andrew Lang calls 'one of the best of Dickens' minor characters'—'punished the Amens tremendously,'[14] and when he gave out the psalms—always giving the whole verse—he looked all round the congregation first, as much as to say 'You have heard our friend overhead; oblige me with your opinion of this style.' This gentleman subsequently became a 'play-actor,' but failed to achieve the success he desired. Solomon Daisy (B.R.) is bell-ringer and parish clerk of Chigwell, though we hear nothing of his exploits in these capacities. However, he must have been a familiar figure to the villagers as he stood in his little desk on the Sunday, giving out the psalms and leading the singing, because when in the rifled and dismantled Maypole he appeals to the poor witless old Willet as to whether he did not know him—

'You know us, don't you, Johnny?' said the little clerk, rapping himself on the breast. 'Daisy, you know—Chigwell Church—bell-ringer—little desk on Sundays—eh, Johnny?'

Mr. Willet reflected for a few moments, and then muttered as it were mechanically: 'Let us sing to the praise and glory of—'

'Yes, to be sure,' cried the little man hastily, 'that's it, that's me, Johnny.'

Besides the numerous body of more or less distinguished artists whom the novelist introduces to us and whose achievements are duly set forth in these pages, there are two others whose connexion with Cloisterham gives them a prominent position in our list. One of these is the Rev. Mr. Crisparkle (E.D.), Minor Canon of Cloisterham:

early riser, musical, classical, cheerful, kind, good-natured, social, contented, and boy-like.

What a contrast to the Stiggins and Chadband type! He is a member of the 'Alternate Musical Wednesdays' Society, and amongst his lesser duties is that of corrector-in-chief of the un-Dean-like English of the cathedral verger.

It is Mr. Crisparkle's custom to sit up last of the early household, very softly touching his piano and practising his parts in concerted vocal music.

Over a closet in his dining-room, where occasional refreshments were kept,

a portrait of Handel in a flowing wig beamed down at the spectator, with a knowing air of being up to the contents of the closet, and a musical air of intending to combine all its harmonies in one delicious fugue.

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