What was on Mr. W. M. Dunham’s nightstand in 1897?

Well, he was reading “The Scottish Minstrel : the songs of Scotland subsequent to Burns , with memoirs of the poets.”  This edition by Charles Rogers, was published in 1882, and was #28 in the library collection, making it one of the first books acquired. This subject would have appealed to the many people living in Carleton Place, who were of Scottish and English descent.  The biographies of the many ‘modern’ bards showcased within are just as interesting to read about now, as they were in the late 1800’s.

From the preface we learn that, “The present Collection proceeds on the plan of presenting memoirs of the song writers in connection with their compositions, thus making the reader acquainted with the condition of every writer, and with the circumstances in which his minstrelsy was given forth.  In this manner, too, many popular songs, of which the origin was unknown, have been permanently connected with the names of their authors.” 

The frontispiece in this book displays a lovely picture of the Baroness Nairne, who was Carolina Nairne, nee Oliphant (16 August 1766-26 October 1845.)  She was a famous Scottish songwriter and song collector, bringing out a collection of national airs set to appropriate words, as well as a large number of original songs.

Our ledger shows that it was read in February, 1897 by a W. M. Dunham.   After consulting various census  and marriage records, we find that William Matthew Dunham was born in Brockville, Ontario in 1849, the son of a doctor, of English descent.  He starts out by working as a shop clerk near Brockville, and before his marriage in 1881, he is a clerk working in Ottawa.  By 1891 he is living with his wife, Margaret Ann Rochester, and their family of three, in Carleton Place.  He was listed as a retail merchant of independent means, dealing in dry goods.  More than likely he dealt with some of the abundant woollen mills in Carleton Place.  After the 1901 census, he seems to disappear.

He and his family may have entertained themselves that winter by singing some of the folk songs found in “The Scottish Minstrel”, like ‘Robin Goodheart’s Carol’, by James Manson.

“Tis Yule, ‘tis Yule! All eyes are bright,

And joyous songs abound;

Our log burns high, but it glows less bright

Than the eyes which sparkle round.”

Mysteriously, sometimes the songs indicate which ‘air’ or tune to sing them to, but just as often, they do not.  Possibly, everyone was familiar with a great many of the songs included in the book, and just knew enough to sing them to the air “My only Foe and Dearie O!”, or to “Bonny Dundee”.  Or maybe they were just as happy to read them like poetry.  There’s no way to know.

James Manson’s  biography says that his songs were ‘sung by admiring circles in Glasgow and throughout the west of Scotland.’ Maybe in Canada too!

Anyone interested  can study “The Scottish Minstrel” at archive.org. 

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Great post! You’re right….they probably already knew the tunes to many of the songs, as music like this would have been sung through the generations and “handed down” through families.

    I especially loved the last line of the preface, which reads “the editor rejoices in having found a publisher, who, imbued with the national spirit, has undertaken to produce the work at a price which will render it generally accessible.”

    Don’t you wish more publishers had that “national spirit”?


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