Saturday 16 December 2023

The Spirit of My Song, by Metta Victoria Fuller and Stephen C. Foster


This is the link to my YouTube recording of

The Spirit of My Song

poetry by Metta Victoria Fuller, music by Stephen C. Foster

Video link

In the weeks before Christmas, there is now a tradition that the members of UK Autoharps build an Advent Calendar - members develop and share a song, one member/one song per day, in the days leading up to Christmas.

It is a nice tradition.  It began in the days of lockdown and breakdown.

And The Spirit of My Song is my contribution, December 17, 2023...



From my point of view there are a number of sub-traditions.

It has become a tradition that my offering to the UK Autoharps Advent Calendar develops from my exploration of the song archives - specifically the archives of Stephen Foster.

The Autoharp has a special relationship with these nineteenth century 'parlour songs' - for the parlour was one of the places where the Autoharp found a niche. 

The case study is the nineteenth century 'parlour song' which escaped from the parlour and, through the Carter Family, became a 'folk song', and an Autoharp standard - Wildwood Flower/ I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets.

Stephen Foster songs are usually very Autoharp-friendly.



Often a feature of these parlour songs is their hard won 'poetic diction'.

We can take the discussion in any number of directions - one starting point is this note by the Academy of American Poets, on

But...  Search on, search on...

I see this turn to poetic diction as part of the expansion of education and printing in the late nineteenth century, especially in the USA.

With due deference to Wordsworth, it would be very odd if we defined poetry in a way that made poets use ONLY everyday language in their poems.  Poets who use heightened, elaborate language, with arcane and unusual words, are not making a mistake.  They are exploring a resource - in many cases a resource that is, through education, new to them.  They are demonstrating a developing skill.  And some human experiences ask for heightened language.



These thoughts arise from my work on...

The Spirit of My Song

poetry by Metta Victoria Fuller, music by Stephen C. Foster

This is the sheet music on the Library of Congress web site.

You can see that the LOC librarian wrote on the title page the date when the song entered the Library of Congress, 21 August 1850.

See also...

Foster's Complete Songs

In 1850 the poet, Metta Victoria Fuller, was 19 years old.

Let us see if we can find a way to treat her song with respect.



There is a Wikipedia entry on Metta Fuller

You can see that, with marriage, her full name became Metta Victoria Fuller Victor...

But that was only one of her many, many names.  She became a successful professional writer, publishing under at least a dozen names, often masculine names, some weird masculine names like 'Seeley Regester' .

So, very hard to research...

See also

Women Writers and Detectives in Nineteenth-Century Crime Fiction

The Mothers of the Mystery Genre

Lucy Sussex

Metta Fuller is sometimes credited with bringing the detective into American crime fiction - her Mr. Burton does seem like a nod to Dickens' Mr. Bucket.



I first came across the text of The Spirit of My Song in the sheet music of 1850.

The text is also visible on Google Books in

Poems of Sentiment and Imagination: With Dramatic and Descriptive Pieces

By Frances A. Fuller, and Metta V. Fuller

Published in 1851

Page 211


(The New York Public Library, and Google Books, have made a mistake - in attaching Metta's later married name, Victor, to both sisters...)

Metta and Frances - Frances is the older sister - describe their poems as 'the first fruit offering of young hearts...'

And say that the poems 'have before appeared through various literary mediums...'

I assume that Stephen Foster saw the text in a journal, or it might have been sent to him for consideration.

Note that Metta Fuller's text does not have a chorus.  She does top and tail the lyric with the same four lines

Tell me, have you ever met her

Met the spirit of my song?

Have her wave-like footsteps glided

Through the city's worldly throng?


Those are the first 4 lines of the poem and they are the last 4 lines.

I deduce that Stephen Foster wanted a song with a chorus.  He knew his audience.

So, the Composer decided that the first four lines of the song would become the Chorus - and that is set out in the sheet music.

As ever the Melody has two parts, Melody A on the first 4 lines of the 8 line stanza, Melody B on the second 4 lines.

The repeats of those 4 lines as Chorus with Melody A, and the structure of the song, are Composer decisions.

We respect the decisions of the Poet and the Composer.  So, we get those 4 lines a total of 8 times, once in stanza 1, once in stanza 6, and in the 6 choruses.

And in stanza 6, where those 4 lines are the last lines of the poem, we sing the same 4 lines first on Melody B and then, back into the Chorus, on Melody A.

This is hard.



Now, let me introduce another sub-tradition.  It turns out that my work for the UK Autoharps Advent Calendar becomes an investigation of the state of my health as the winter progresses...

There is a video from a previous year where you can see me, lashed to the microphone, determined to stay upright and give a performance.

This year, 2023...  Turns out I was having a slow motion health crisis.  I was ill throughout October - merely a Very Bad Cold.  Merely...  I lost October.

November was spent recovering and apologising.

I asked for extra time from the organisers of the Advent Calendar project - my thanks to Helen Slade and the other Autoharpers who stepped in to help.

In the video you can hear how ill I was.  We have left in some fluffs and spoonerisms.  We had to - there were so many.  Only sometimes do I hit that high note.

Have we invented the Raku Ware approach to the music video? - where the blemish is part of the process, and a part of the beauty?  Nah.



I wanted the video and the performance to keep the Autoharp-friendly nature of Stephen Foster' setting.  And to respect the text.

This young Poet is pushing Poetic Diction.  Hard.  You have to take this on its own terms, and enjoy its effects.

There are some splendid effects - eyes that 'magnificently flash'.

So...  what is the song about?  What did Stephen Foster hear?  Who is the Spirit of Metta Fuller's song?

At one level, it must be a song about our Muse - the bringer of inspiration.  Perhaps Euterpe, the Muse of Music and Lyric Poetry, often shown carrying a flute, or Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance and Choral Song, with her lyre.

And in Metta Fuller's poem the Spirit has a lyre, and tries to teach Metta how to play the lyre.

But Metta Fuller's Spirit can be clearly seen, and met, walking through the crowds.  The text follows the Sprit into the home, into the parlour.  Where she brings inspiration, yes - and comfort and education.

I think that Metta Fuller is writing about her older sister, Frances.

So there it is - my contribution to the UK Autoharps Advent Calendar 2023.

But is this a Christmas Song?

Again, following Dickens – Christmas is when we see Spirits, and learn from them.


Patrick O'Sullivan

December 2023


Saturday 25 February 2023

Shannon Marie Harney sings The Border...

Shannon Marie Harney sings The Border...

We have released a new recording of the O'Sullivan/Edwards song, The Border.

The setting, the melody, is by Sue Edwards - who is well known to the autoharp community, of course.

And it is a very autoharp friendly melody - chords are G C D.  We have added a little Middle 8 section, Chords Em C G D.

Sue took a lyric of mine from my song lyric book, Love Death and Whiskey, pages 44-45, and set it.  I have always really liked this setting, and its embrace of repetition.  The patterns of repetition in the lyric interweave with the patterns of repetition in the melody.  Highlighting different phrases - different words and different melodic phrases.  It is the kind of repetition you would exploit in a song lyric, but not in a poem.  Very much the whole being greater than the sum.

The singer is Shannon Marie Harney.  I have said that my stuff is not a typical part of Shannon Marie's repertoire.  And, at first, she sang this song almost in rock chick mode - which I liked, and might have been happy with.

But we gave Shannon Marie her studio time - the song asserted itself, and took its own direction. 

I hope Sue Edwards is happy with the result.

The obvious links are pasted in below - but the song can be found wherever you look for your music...

I have also pasted in the Chordify link, so that you can see the pattern of the chords.  And the Google Books link to the song lyric book.

My thanks to Sue Edwards, to Shannon Marie Harney, and to Danny Yates, City Sound Studios.




Provided to YouTube by CDBaby

The Border · Shannon Marie Harney

 ℗ 2023 Patrick Joseph O'Sullivan, Sue Edwards

 Released on: 2023-02-22

Auto-generated by YouTube.









Chordify, Shannon Marie Harney, The Border


Love Death and Whiskey - 40 Songs

By Patrick O'Sullivan · 2010

Patrick O'Sullivan

February 2023

Sunday 22 January 2023

Irish Diaspora Studies and... The Male


Irish Diaspora Studies and...

Versions of this message have appeared on various platforms, in connection with other parts of my lives...

This version is a compact tidy - I hope it is coherent...

One starting point might be an aside at the end of my Introduction to Volume 4 of The Irish World Wide, p15...

O’Sullivan, P. (1995) ‘Introduction: Irish Women and Irish Migration’, in O’Sullivan, P. (ed.) Irish Women and Irish Migration. London & Washington: Leicester University Press (The Irish World Wide), pp. 1–22.


'Yet you cannot deconstruct only one half of the dyad, woman/man. If I

can imagine a volume on Irish Women and Irish Migration quite other than

the one you have in your hands, I can equally well imagine a volume on

Irish Men and Irish Migration which would be the companion to this one.

That volume would bring into Irish Studies and Irish Migration Studies the

critical study of men and masculinities.  Certainly we now need studies of

Irish migration which give the variable of gender its proper due.'


So...  That thought has been in the back of my everchanging mind, as we have tracked Irish Diaspora Studies throughout the intervening years...

We can begin with two songs.  A drinking song.  And a temperance song.

As a little music project, before Christmas 2022, we did two Stephen Foster songs:  one a drinking song, and the other a temperance song...

There are notes here and here...

And little videos here and here...

Video link

Video link

Yes, I am not in good voice...  It is winter.

The drinking song, 'When the bowl goes round...', music by Stephen Foster, lyric by George Cooper, uses a strange phrase in the chorus,  'jolly fellows'.

'We'll all be jolly fellows'.  It felt like there was more to know...

I have now found a book by Richard Stott...

Stott, R. (2009) Jolly Fellows: Male Milieus in Nineteenth-Century America. Johns Hopkins University Press (Gender Relations in the America).

...which is a study, page 1, of 

'a distinctive male comportment that consisted of not just fighting but also heavy drinking, gambling and playing pranks. Men who engaged in such behavior were called “jolly fellows.” Although the jolly fellows were a subset of the male population, whenever men, especially young men, gathered in milieus that were all male or where women were rare, such conduct could occur. Such behavior was tolerated, even condoned, by men who were not themselves drinkers, fighters, or gamblers...'

Richard Stott does not seem to have been aware of this particular Stephen Foster song when he wrote his book, and picked its title.  It seems that Stephen Foster and George Cooper, writing in the 1860s, found that phrase, 'jolly fellows', still there in the ether.  And maybe by then - Richard Stott, the cultural historian, suggests - the age of the 'jolly fellows' was over...  He maps the development of a 'civilizing process' (Norbert Elias) that will, eventually, lead to Prohibition.  A drinking song, followed by a temperance song.

I find myself putting the, 'jolly fellows', from this Foster drinking song, alongside the 'boon companions' of 'Comrades, fill no glass...', the second Foster song I prepared for Christmas 2022.

The point for Irish Diaspora Studies is that Richard Stott has absorbed, seamlessly, the research and comment on Irish male violence into his study of nineteenth century American male violence - male violence, accepted, useful, controlled, directed?  There they are, the references we would expect, Carolyn Conley, “The Agreeable Recreation of Fighting,”, Patrick O’Donnell, Irish Faction Fighters of the Nineteenth Century,  William Carleton, Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry.  Edward “Ned” Harrigan and Mulligan's Guards.  And so on...

In turn, Richard Stott's book should take its place alongside all those other studies of the Irish male, and the Irish-American...

It is worth searching for Richard Stott's book - because I found it Open Access.  It is readily available.

Patrick O'Sullivan

Visiting Professor of Irish Diaspora Studies, London Metropolitan University

January 2022



Saturday 17 December 2022

Autoharp Advent Calendar: Stephen Foster, Comrades, fill no Glass for me

Comrades, fill no Glass for me - Stephen Foster

This is my contribution for Day 16 of the UK Autoharps Advent Calendar 2022...



Jan Brodie asked me if I had a second song for the Advent Calendar - I said that I was working on a song that might fit...

But...  That first song was a Stephen Foster drinking song,

When the Bowl goes round, Stephen Foster and George Cooper

Video link

...and this second song is a Stephen Foster temperance song.

Comrades, fill no Glass for me - Stephen Foster

Video link

Compare and contrast...

But Jan thinks that nothing is more Chrismassy than temperance and good intentions...



A second song from Stephen Foster.  A second song from the University of Pittsburgh and the Library of Congress online archives.

The sheet music says, proudly, Poetry and Music by Stephen Foster.

Pittsburgh Stephen Foster Collection

Has 3 copies.  Here is one...

Comrades, fill no glass for me

Library of Congress

Comrades, fill no glass for me

Music for a nation: American sheet music, 1820-1860

A web search will find that the sheet music has spread widely - and a number of people have had a go at singing the song....



The lyric does show Foster's workmanlike skill, three 8 line verses each building to the couplet, which is sung twice, for emphasis...

Still, boon companions may ye be,

But, comrades, fill no glass for me.

With little variants on the later repeats.  There is the oddity that Verse 1 has 'boon companions may ye be',

But Verse 2 and Verse 3 have 'boon companions ye may be'.  Can we find a subtle reason for this?

You can sometimes hear performers puzzling over that difference.  And Copy & Paste web sites do not care.

There is a lot going on in the lyric - back and forth rumination.  Certainly a love of whisky, mixed feelings about the boon companions, and that, oft repeated, desired conclusion.

Basic lyric skills on show - like, when we plan rhyme schemes, if we are going to rhyme on an unusual word get that word in place early, so that the later, more expected, rhyme cements it in place.

'Liquid flame', meaning whisky, is a good example.  Foster knows then that he has the standard rhymes available.  He could explore the drinker's shame, the boon companions' blame.  And, of course, we do explore them.

For the actual rhyme Foster chooses 'blighted fame...'

See also Verse 3, 'aspirations undefiled' leads to the rhyme with 'child'...

And when we hear 'fill no glass for me', do we not also hear 'blasphemy...'?

Part of the fun of making the little illustrated videos for YouTube is seeing if - without getting bogged down - we can visually mark such detail.



The melody is also workmanlike - but has enough Foster subtlety to make it worthwhile. 

The sheet music gives no time signature - I don't think that that is unusual?  There are little irregularities, which can confuse.  In this performance, we try to skate over.

And the second part of the melody has, for me, an unexpected twist - for line 6, in the key of G, we have gone with A7 and D7.

The real musicians will have more to say. 

We should say Thank You to the University of Pittsburgh and the Library of Congress for the online archives - this is the web working as it was meant to work.

Patrick O'Sullivan

December 2022

Saturday 10 December 2022

Christmas Guest: Carol for Drums and Choir, sung by Shannon Marie Harney

Christmas Guest:  Carol for Drums and Choir

Helleborus Niger - The Christmas Rose

Anyone active in music in England is aware of that extraordinary network of choirs, a subset of the ecosystems studied by Ruth Finnegan in her important book, The Hidden Musicians.

1.  I have just noticed that Ruth Finnegan now has her own web site, which can now be a starting point.

I am re-reading her sections on choirs... 

The possibility of my writing songs for choirs has been around, but has never quite come together - I am sad.  But I am aware that I would need to spend much more time understanding the repertoire and the ecosystems...

2.  As a case study...

A while back I was asked if I had a Christmas song for a choir.  And, why not?

Thinking about Christmas songs, recurring themes, and talking and listening to people, as they remember Christmas, and value Christmas, and worry about Christmas...

I developed an idea about that extra plate on the table, the last minute guest - a person with nowhere else to go, because of tragedy or disaster, personal, political.  On the receiving end of rough kindness.

I started with the line, 'He brings nothing to the feast...'

And began to structure a lyric.

3.  And then Lyric Madness took over.  I looked at my opening, and thought, Why am I adding words to add meaning?  Could I not add meaning by taking words away?

And that is what I did, hewing the opening quatrain, 'He brings nothing to the feast...' so that each of the four lines could be halved.

To make a new more compact four line verse. 

And then halved again.  And then halved again.

So that I had created four quatrains.  Each one clearly developed from the quatrain before, but each one with a different meaning.  And a different line length.

And the last one, the most compact, lists the things that the Christmas Guest did bring to the feast.


4.  So, four very different quatrains, with four different line lengths - difficult to set as one song.  Maybe it is really a sequence of four songs?  Four different songs, with four different moods.

How to impose unity?  Because there is unity, unity of thought and unity of narrative.

At this point we might just call in The Lone Arranger.  But those days are gone, or, at least, disrupted.

And I already had a vision, partly based on those conversations with choirs - see above.  It was a theatrical vision - what I wanted to see on the stage.

So, this became...

Christmas Guest:  Carol for Drums and Choir

I created the four melodies for the four songs, and, with the help of Danny Yates and Shannon Marie Harney, created an arrangement.

Some details we had to return to, when first thoughts did not work.  For example, to clarify the story, I created more theatre - including the Jovial Man (God, he is annoying!), and the white phone.  With that distinctive sound.

Every choir has its Jovial Man.  Or Woman.

The keyboard signals the ways in which the choir might 'vocalise' its interludes, and the drums impose drive, unity and structure.

There will be other ways of doing all this - for example, I did think of developing the four 'songs' further, by giving one song each to the four voices of the choir.

If someone lends us a choir...

But the result now is 'Christmas Guest' - perhaps the bleakest Christmas song ever written...

In some theologies of Christmas there is that sense of foreboding.  See also, Matthew 25:31-46, Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.



'Christmas Guest' on YouTube...


This is Christmas Guest on Spotify

It is worth listening on one of the better platforms - to hear the uncompressed audio...

When I shared these thoughts, above, with Shannon Marie Harney - she understood perfectly...


Patrick O'Sullivan

December 2022

Christmas Guest:  Carol for Drums and Choir

He brings nothing to the feast but fears and woes.

His hollow eyes say everything that can be said.

His broken hands reach out to touch the Christmas Rose.

His hunger knows to sing, and waiting to be fed.

He brings nothing to the feast.

His hollow eyes say everything.

His broken hands reach out.

His hunger knows to sing. 

He brings nothing but

His hollow eyes,

His broken hands.

His hunger knows. 

He brings

His eyes,

His hands,

His hunger. 

© Patrick O'Sullivan 2022




Tuesday 6 December 2022

A new song called 'Darkness', sung by Shannon Marie Harney


Well, yes, since you ask - with this song, I do know where the ideas came from...


1.  I was listening to singer, Shannon Marie Harney, and thinking about writing a new song that would respond to her strengths.

So, reaching into the song bag, I found and wrote 'Darkness'.

And this time, for a number of reasons...  Setting the text to music...  I did it myself - I heard, emerging from the text, a waltz...

At this point this note on my blog becomes over-complicated - I will leave the complications in place, below, for people who like that sort of thing...

Others can waltz...


2.  Certainly we had been thinking about the Great American Songbook - and those songs which, when you analyse them and sing them, have a tiny, pared down, lyric.  Like a nursery rhyme.

A thimbleful.  Dark matter, compacted by gravity.

The heavy lifting is left to the performer, to the performance, to the music and the arrangement.

Also interesting is the power of repetition, and reprise.  On the page my lyric, 'Darkness', looks like 3 identical stanzas, times 2.  It would be easy to end up with the same melody times 6.

That is not what the lyric wanted.  Lines are repeated, yes, but at each repeat the meaning of the words change.  Choreograph that, in waltz time.


3.  The first line of the song comes from a play by Samuel Beckett.

This is not 'Godot, the Musical' - though there is a moment in the 'Godot' play where we expect Didi and Gogo to launch into 'The Trail of the Lonesome Pine'.

No, different play.

For reasons which I will not go into here, we are interested in translation - we are in an age of translation.  We are interested in the work of translators and interpreters.  I have written about this elsewhere, and can return to that theme at a later date.

Academic 'Translation Studies' has become very complex - and now includes a special category, 'self-translators'...  Writers who translate their own work from one language to another.  Amongst the list of famous names - a surprising number of them are Nobel Prize winners - we always find Samuel Beckett.

The first line of my lyric comes from the Beckett play that is called, in French, 'Fin de partie', and in English - Beckett's translation - 'Endgame'.  So, has the meaning changed?  The French, end of a game, becomes the English, endgame, the much analysed part of the game of chess that comes before the end?

Towards the end of 'Fin de partie'/ 'Endgame' the main character, Hamm, remembers a poem.  He half-remembers a poem, and then corrects himself.  He half-remembers a very famous French poem...

Now we have a section where text talks to text, soul to soul.


4.  Fin de partie/Endgame

Fin de partie Samuel Beckett


Un peu de poésie .

( Un temps )

Tu appelais

( Un temps.)

(Il se corrige) ...

TU RECLAMAIS le soir;  il vient

( Un temps.)

(Il se corrige) ...

IL DESCEND:  le voici

( Un temps.)

Joli ca.


Endgame Samuel Beckett



A little poetry.


 You prayed—

(Pause. He corrects himself.)

 You CRIED for night; it comes—

 (Pause. He corrects himself.)

 It FALLS: now cry in darkness.

 (He repeats, chanting.)

 You cried for night; it falls: now cry in darkness.


 Nicely put, that.


 And now?



(Note:  the French text here is from a secondary source.  I need to check it.)


5.  The half-remembered poem is by Charles Baudelaire, from Flowers of Evil, 1857.  It is called Recueillement, and these are the first 4 lines...



Sois sage, ô ma Douleur, et tiens-toi plus tranquille.

Tu réclamais le Soir; il descend; le voici:

Une atmosphère obscure enveloppe la ville,

Aux uns portant la paix, aux autres le souci.

You will find tons of comment online, in many languages - and I have excised from this note most of my own comment.  In English the title is usually translated as 'Meditation'.

We can explore the suggestion that the language of the poem hints that the poet is talking to 'Douleur', Sorrow, Sadness, as if she were a lover.  Or a recalcitrant child. 

The poem takes us on a walk, from 'Soir' to 'Nuit' - and one issue in translation is how to translate 'Soir' in line 2.  Be still, my O Level French...

Roy Campbell, 1952, goes with 'Dusk.  'Evening', Robert Lowell, 1963.  'Night', Cyril Scott, 1909.

Beckett - or is it Hamm? - has 'Soir' in his French text.  And 'Night' in his English.

You CRIED for night - what are you going to do with it?  'Now cry in darkness'.


6.  And my lyric begins:  'You can cry, in the darkness...'

Dark matter, compacted by gravity...


See also....

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

(English Standard Version)

For everything there is a season...

...a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance...

and Brecht in exile...

In den finsteren Zeiten

Wird da auch gesungen werden?

Da wird auch gesungen werden. Von den finsteren Zeiten. 

(From the Svendborg Poems, published in 1939)

[In the days of darkness

Will there be singing then too?

There will be singing then too. About the days of darkness.

(Translation by Sheila Taylor)]



Now, for goodness sake, do not tell any of this to Shannon Marie Harney... 

Just let her sing...

Darkness, Shannon Marie Harney

On Spotify

On YouTube

And on every other platform...

Patrick O'Sullivan

December 2022

Monday 5 December 2022

Autoharp Advent Calendar: Foster & Cooper, When the Bowl goes round

 UK Autoharps have invented a new tradition, the Autoharp Advent Calendar...

1.  During the winter lockdown of 2021-2022 our collective organised our first long distance Autoharp Advent Calendar - a number of us sent in a songs, with video, for display, one a day, on the run-up to Christmas 2021.

I was then in a struggle with health, but was determined to contribute.  My video from Christmas 2021 is still there - you can see me, lashed to my horse, like Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid, defending Valencia...

...singing Stephen Foster 'Hard Times'...

Video link


2.  It helped that I knew the song.  I knew the song from Cathy Britell's 2012, lovely long distance, project...  I participated in that project in 2012, alongside Jan Brodie and Stephanie Hladowski, and the autoharp world...

Cathy Brittell wrote...  'In the winter of 2012, a group of friends (many of whom have never met) who share membership on an international autoharp mailing list, cyberpluckers, decided to reach across cyberspace and play and sing a song together.  There is nothing quite as wonderful as making music with others, whether in person or in the ether.'

And her 2012 video is still visible...

Hard Times Come Again No More - The Cyberpluckerpotluck

Catherine Britell


3.  My thanks to Danny Yates, who propped me up, and pointed a camera in 2021

This year Danny has helped me get another Stephen Foster number ready.  Back on the horse.

I suppose that there is here the makings of a further tradition.  There is a relationship between the autoharp communities and the work of Stephen Foster - I won't go into all the detail here, but it can be a problematic relationship...

Foster's work is autoharp friendly - and the autoharp and Stephen Foster, at one time, shared an ecological niche, the nineteenth century parlour...

In our own time, studying and playing the works of Stephen Foster has become just...  easy...

First, there is the Stephen Foster Collection at the University of Pittsburgh, much of it digitised and free to download...

'Sheet music, broadsides, songsters, music manuscripts, correspondence, business records, photographs, newspaper clippings, maps, iconography, Foster’s sketchbook, and other ephemera related to Stephen Foster and his family...'

There is also the Library of Congress - again much material is free to download...

Stephen Collins Foster: A Guide to Resources

'Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864) was the most famous American song composer of the 19th century. This guide provides links to resources at the Library of Congress, including a large collection of published first editions.'

The availability of the sheet music at Pittsburgh and LOC means that you can check other online versions of Foster's works, and correct the texts, if need be...


4.  For the UK Autoharps Advent Calendar 2022 I have offered, from the Stephen Foster archives, the justly neglected 'When the bowl goes round'.

The Lyric is by George Cooper, Stephen Foster's collaborator - Cooper is not as good a lyricist as Stephen Foster.  Melody is by Stephen Foster.

The song is Christmassy, I think - the bowl must be the Wassail bowl.  Cooper and Foster wrote drinking songs and temperance songs, as the market demanded.  In this song they seem to have confused the two categories - as a drinking song it demands, from the singer, extreme sobriety.  The lyric is chewy, and full of the archaisms that nineteenth century lyricists and audiences loved - it describes itself as 'the jocund song'.  I had a few goes at singing it - then Danny Yates and I decided that, try as I might, my version was never going to be more than adequate...

As for correcting the text...  You can see that the title page has 'When the bowl goes round' - while the verses as published have 'While the bowl goes round'...

I think that 'When' is better than 'While', and that is what I sing throughout. 

(There is the oddity that in some regional varieties of English the word 'While' can mean 'Until'.  Which...

'...reminds me of the possibly apocryphal tale about the first automatic level crossings in the Midlands - where the sign "Wait here while the lights are flashing" supposedly caused a string of near-fatalities...',5753,-5498,00.html

But I digress...)

So, here is, 'When the Bowl goes round', Stephen Foster and George Cooper

Video link

My contribution to the UK Autoharps Advent Calendar 2022...


Patrick O'Sullivan

December 2022

Further Note January 2023

Thinking further about this song, Foster & Cooper, 'When the Bowl goes round...'  And that strange phrase 'jolly fellows' in the chorus...  I have come across a book by Richard Stott...

Stott, R. (2009) Jolly Fellows: Male Milieus in Nineteenth-Century America. Johns Hopkins University Press (Gender Relations in the America). 

...which is a study, page 1, of 'a distinctive male comportment that consisted of not just fighting but also heavy drinking, gambling and playing pranks. Men who engaged in such behavior were called “jolly fellows.” Although the jolly fellows were a subset of the male population, whenever men, especially young men, gathered in milieus that were all male or where women were rare, such conduct could occur. Such behavior was tolerated, even condoned, by men who were not themselves drinkers, fighters, or gamblers...'

It is worth searching for Richard Stott's book - because I found it Open Access.  It is readily available.

Richard Stott does not seem to have been aware of this particular Stephen Foster song when he wrote his book, and picked its title.  It seems that Stephen Foster and George Cooper, writing in the 1860s, found that phrase still there in the ether.  And maybe by then - Richard Stott, the cultural historian, suggests - the age of the 'jolly fellows' was over...

I find myself putting the, 'jolly fellows', from this Foster song, alongside the 'boon companions' of 'Comrades, fill no glass...', the second Foster song I prepared for Christmas 2022.  See my note on 'Comrades', further up/later in this blog.