Old Collection Given University Shows History of Harvard Song Writing From Ballads Through Mazurkas to Ragtime
That popular song writing by members of the University is by no means modern or indeed limited to any particular period of Harvard history, is shown in a collection of old college songs of the eighteenth and nineteenth century which have recently been given to the University by Richard Inglis '03. The collection reveals the origin of some of the well-known songs of today together with that of many which have long since passed into oblivion.
Among the originals of pieces which have come down to the present time, is the first copy of "Fair Harvard", probably the most widely known of the University's present songs. The sheet bears the date of September, 1836, and the inscription that the words were "harmonized for the annual festival of Harvard College by D. Comer and written by the Reverend Samuel Gilman '11". This copy also throws considerable light upon the origin of the tune which has for some time been in doubt. It is commonly believed that it is of Irish origin because it is included by Moore among his "Irish Melodies", with the words, "Believe Me, in All Those Eadearing Young Charms" but Comer shows it originated from the airs of a popular English ballad, "My Lodging is on the Cold Ground".
There are almost 100 songs in the collection with antiquated names and dated anywhere from 1709 to 1900. One in particular shows that even back in the days when the University had blue Sundays and witches were hurned on Harvard Square, that the undergraduates still had a sense of humor. According to the frontispiece, the song constitutes a versified testament and is entitled "Father Abbey's Will". An explanatory preface precedes the first lines which reads: "Some time since died here Mr. Matthew Abbey in a very advanced age. He had for many year's served the college in quality of bed maker and sweeper. Having no child, his wife inherited his whole estate which he bequeathes to her in his last will and testament as follows--
"To my dear wife, my joy and life, I freely now do give her
My whole estate, with all my plate, being just about to leave her
My tub of soap, a long cart rope, a frying pan and kettle,
An ashes pail, a threshing flail, an iron wedge and beetle."
The piece includes six other verses enumerating the articles of his worldly wealth which went to Father Abbey's wife. At the end there is a concluding line--"Thus Father Abbey left his spouse as rich as any church or college mouse, which is sufficient invitation to serve the college in his station."
About a century later, after 1830, the vein of the songs begins to change. Dancing and the musical theatre performance usher in a new type of frivolous song composition. Each year brings its quota of new "marches", "quicksteps", "variations", "gallops", "quadrilles", "polkas", "schottisches", and "mazurkas". Then, as dancing and the musical theatricals begin to show their influence, are found such titles as "The Harvard Quadrille, to the ladies of the Harvard sociables" and "The Hollis Hall Polka". Finally comes "rag time" in the early 1900's and even in this the University is by no means left out. The old team of Montgomery and Ward introduced Harvard back of the musical comedy footlights with a football song travesty followed by others such as the "Boat Race Gallop" and "My Love's a Harvard Boy" by Ethel Nye