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Report on The Star-Spangled Banner, Hail Columbia, America, Yankee Doodle; online

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German lowlands are known to have sung the air of "Yankee
Doodle" in Holland. This implies early use, not origin, and even
if it implied the latter, not the Dutch but the "Plattdeutsche"
would be responsible for the melody.

We turn to Mr. Elson's book on the National Music of America
and there find these interesting lines:

Just as this volume is going to press [1900] the author is enabled, through
the kindness of M. Jules Koopman, traveling in Holland, to trace this theory of

Yankee Doodle. 113

Dutch origin more definitely. The first period of the melody is quite familiar
to Dutch musicians, and has been used in Holland from time immemorial as a
children's song; the second period is not known in Holland.

Again, this implies at the best merely early use and by no means
a Dutch origin. If "Yankee Doodle" were a traditional Dutch
air, it certainly would not have escaped the scrutinizing eye of the
best authorities on Dutch folk songs, such as Van Duyse and D. F.
Scheurleer. The story of a Dutch origin may be dropped, since
Mr. D. F. Scheurleer, in a letter to me under date of October 7,
1908, remarks:

Was die Melodic betrifft, muss ich gestehen in den Niederlanden kein Proto-
type zu kennen. Dieses war auch der Fall bei von mir befragten Sachverstan-

Das von Ihnen citierte quasi hollandische Ernte-Lied ist mir vollig neu und
ich wiisste daran keinen Sinn zu geben . . .

Ich habe beim Yankee doodle 6'fters gedacht an hier im 18ten Jahrhundert
ee'hr bekannte Savoyarden-Lieder, gesungen von Savoyarden-Knaben, die mit
Drehleier und Meerschweinchen herumzogen. Diese Leierkastenlieder waren
sehr geeignet um von Matrosen und Emigranten weiter befordert zu werden . . .

To avoid all possible confusion, it may be added that the air of
the Dutch song "Pauwel Jonas" (Paul Jones) is not identical with
"Yankee Doodle."

Somewhat more perplexing than the theory of Dutch origin is the
one attributing "Yankee Doodle" to the fife-major of the Grenadier
Guards about 1750, who is said to have composed the melody as a
march for drum and fife. This statement rests on the authority of
Mr. T. Moncrieff, but unfortunately no clue to his source is given.
It is significant, however, that according to this theory words became
associated with the air long after it had become familiar to the ears
of the people hi towns where British regiments were stationed. The
weak point of this theory is its vagueness. The strong point that the
air is attributed without circumlocution to a tangible author. "Yan-
kee Doodle" must have had an origin. If we should be forced to
admit that all other theories are inherently weak, then the fife-major
of the Grenadier Guards would loom up as a very formidable candi-
date for the authorship of "Yankee Doodle." Not, of course, of a
march by this title, but of a quick march, with some other or with-
out .title, which found its way shortly after 1750 to America, there
became popular, was wedded to words dealing with the New Eng-
land Yankees, and permanently retained the name of "Yankee
Doodle." That the air was imported by the Grenadier Guards
themselves is impossible, because Sir F. W. Hamilton's "History
of the First or Grenadier Guards" proves that a detachment of the
regiment, including seven drummers and two fifers, was not sent to
8548009 8

114 Yankee Doodle.

America until 1776. The whole fife-major theory, however, is con-
siderably weakened by reference to these words in a letter written
on December 22, 1908, to the Librarian of Congress by Major Mont-
gomerie of the Grenadier Guards:

. . . We cannot discover that the office of Fife-Major ever existed in this Regi-
ment . We have had Drum-Majors since 1672, but their names we do not know.

The air of "Yankee Doodle" seems to have been founded, said our
anonymous in the Musical Reporter, Boston, 1841, on an air some-
what similar which was common among the peasantry of England
previous to the time of Charles I, 1600 (1625)-1649. On page 97 of
this report the air in question is copied and it requires a very unmusical
ear to detect beyond the rhythm and general character any telling
similarity. Consequently, said air may have been common among the
English peasantry of those days, but this fact would shed no light
whatever on the origin of "Yankee Doodle," as the two airs are not
related. Furthermore, if this air cited by our anonymous is the one
that was set during Cromwell's time to various ditties, such as "The
Roundheads and the Cavaliers," or "Nankee Doodle," then all pro-
tracted and painstaking controversy on this subject was unnecessary,
since "Yankee Doodle" is not concerned. Indeed, the controversy
could easily have been avoided ere this had the commentators found
their way to a copy of the rather scarce Musical Reporter. The air
there quoted and reprinted on page 97 of this report is but a version
of "Nancy Dawson," and as such an eminent authority on folk songs
as Mr. Frank Kidson expressed himself (Dec. 22, 1908), he "should
very much be surprised to have proof of its existence before 1760 or
thereabouts." As to the ditties beginning "The Roundheads and the
Cavaliers" and "Nankee Doodle came to town," Rev. T. Woodfall
Ebsworth, the eminent authority on English ballads, is quoted in the
first edition of "Grove's Dictionary of Music" to this effect:

I believe that I have seen and weighed, more or less every such ballad still
remaining in print, and most of those in M.S. that search has detected: and I can
declare unhesitatingly that I never came across any indication of such an anti-
Cromwellian original as the apocryphal "Nankee Doodle came to town." I
believe that none such is extant or ever appeared. . . There is no contemporary
(t. . 1640-1660 or, say 1648-1699) ballad specially entitled "The Roundheads and
the Cavaliers."

The ante-Cromwellian origin of "Yankee Doodle " and its anti-Crom-
wellian use with all the embellishments that imaginative minds have
added during the last seventy years may definitely be laid to rest.
However, since the (slightly varying) lines

[Nankeel Yankee Doodle came to town

Upon a Kentish pony.

He stuck a feather in his hat

And called him Macaroni

Yankee Doodle. 115

have actually been sung in America for generations to the tune of
"Yankee Doodle," it will become necessary later on to approximately
fix the date of these lines, and that is, to anticipate the third or even
fourth quarter of the eighteenth century. Thus, Cromwell and
"Yankee Doodle" are separated by at least a century.

Theories eighth to eleventh all have this in common, that they take
as starting point the rhyme:

Lucy Locket lost her pocket
Kitty Fisher found it
Not a bit of money in it
[or, Nothing in it, nothing in it}
Only binding round it.

For "Lucy Locket" Lydia Locket is sometimes substituted; for
"Kitty Fisher," Lydia Fisher, and other slight verbal differences occur
in the numerous citations of these lines.

With the exception of the theory of ante-Cromwellian origin, they
have been chiefly responsible for the mass of confusion surrounding
"Yankee Doodle," particularly after Doctor Rimbault threw the
weight of his authority into the controversy.

From the perusal of the literature on the subject as gathered for
this report, it appears conclusively that the lines were used as a nursery
rhyme during the first half of the nineteenth century both in England
and America, and were then always sung to the same air as ' ' Yankee
Doodle." Indeed, "two female relations" informed one G. A. G., for
Notes and Queries, 1865 (vol. 8, p. 155), that the lines were "current
some fifty years ago in the girls' schools" of the Isle of Wight and of
Hampshire that is, about 1810.

For the use of the lines during the eighteenth century we have, to
my knowledge, the contemporary statement only of an aged and re-
spectable lady born in New England, who remembered having heard
the rhyme sung to the same tune long before the Revolution as a favor-
ite jig, called "Lydia Fisher." (See on p. 98, Watson's account,
1844.) On the other hand, the anonymous author in the Musical
Reporter, Boston 1841, gives

~ j e

tc '

that is, "Nancy Dawson" as the air to which the song "Lydia
Locket or Lucy Locket has been sung . . . from time immemorial."
If we turn to page 98 and attempt to sing the rhyme to this melody,
we find that this is easily done, even in the fourth bar, if the two
words "found it" each get two of the four notes. Except for this
fourth bar the traditional "Yankee Doodle" is not sung more read-
ily. Here then would seem to be a conflict between the state-
ment of an old lady relying on her memory and actual quotation of

116 Yankee Doodle.

a melody by an equally anonymous writer who may have had an
equally good memory. This difference of opinion is not vital, since
often in folk music the same words are grafted on different melodies
until the fittest survives. At any rate, we have no reason to doubt
the possibility that "Lucy Locket" was sung also to the air of
"Yankee Doodle" in New England previous to the American revolu-

For further data we must rely on internal evidence. "Lucy
Locket," of course, points to "Lucy Lockit," one of the main charac-
ters in the famous "Beggar's Opera," first performed in 1728 and
popular during the entire century. Possibly, ' 'Lucy Locket ' ' found her
way into the rhyme only for reasons of sound. However, 1730 would
appear to be about the earliest possible date for the rhyme unless Gay
adopted "Lucy Locket" as an effective stage name from the popular
rhyme. The presence of a Kitty Fisher in the rhyme would forbid
this conjecture if we recognize in her with Rimbault the famous lady
of easy virtue called "Kitty Fischer." What Rimbault wrote about
her in the Historical Magazine (1858) is mostly nonsense, as he him-
self tacitly admitted by printing a totally different reference to this
lady in the Leisure Hour (1876) :

Kitty Fisher, as everybody knows, was a celebrated character in the middle of
the last century. She was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds more than once, and
ultimately married Squire Norris of Bemmendon [recte Benenden] in Kent.

This agrees with what one finds about her in "Notes and Queries"
and Stephen's Dictionary of National Biography. The registers of
Benenden give the date of her burial as March 23, 1767. It is not
recorded when Catherine Marie Fischer, probably of German origin,
was born, nor are such biographical details of much account for our
argument. It stands to reason that Kiity Fischer was not made the
heroine of such verses before she had become a really public character.
Since she appears to have reached the height of her reputation as pro-
fessional beauty about 1759, shortly before she became the second
and exemplary wife of Mr. Norris, it would seem safe to conjecture that
the "Lucy Locket" and "Kitty Fisher" rhyme did not originate
many years before 1759. Therefore, the attempt to trace this rhyme,
which only gradually can have become a nursery-rhyme, by way of
this Kitty Fischer to the times of Charles II, 1630 (1660)-! 685, was
conspicuously absurd. On the other hand, nothing would prevent
us from assuming that the rhyme, with whatever melody, may have
found its way to America before our war for independence, that is,
before 1775. In our country Kitty Fisher appears to have become
Lydia Fisher. This modification may have been due to the natural
desire to avoid the harsh verbal sound of "pocket Kitty", and since
our people probably took no special interest in the famous Kitty

Yankee Doodle. 117

Fischer's affairs, they substituted Lydia perhaps for some further
local reason. But, after all, is it necessary to recognize in the Kitty
Fisher of the rhyme the famous Kitty Fischer or any other particular
Kitty Fisher? The name surely neither was nor is so uncommon as to
compel this association. Indeed Mr. Matthews, following the same line
of argument, has found two ladies of this name, contemporary with the
beautiful courtesan. The one is " an eminently respectable young lady
who is mentioned several times in letters written in 1743-1747 by Lieut.
Colonel Charles Russell, of the British Army," the other a ' 'Miss Kitty
Fisher, a very young lady at boarding school at Leicester mentioned in
the Oxford Magazine, April, 1771 ." It is entirely possible that "Kitty
Fisher" was incorporated in the rhyme without the slightest intention of
personal allusion, just because the name "Kitty Fisher" was common
and popular, and because it sounds rather well in the rhyme and fits
the tune. Should this have been the case, then the absence of real
evidence to the effect that the lines were known long before 1800
would fortify the impression that they originated about 1800, and
this again would explain nicely why they were sung to (the then
already very popular) tune of "Yankee Doodle."

The "Lucy Locket" rhyme was clearly intended for singing, and
it is the rule with such folk songs that the melody preceded the
text. In other words, the earlier the rhyme is dated the older
becomes the melody of "Yankee Doodle," unless the rhyme was
sung originally to another tune, which was exchanged later on for
the rhythmically similar and catchier "Yankee Doodle." Naturally
the idea suggested itself to trace this tune in written or printed
form as far back as possible. Here, again, Doctor Rimbault became
responsible for much of the confusion surrounding our air. In the
Historical Magazine (1858, vol. 2, p. 214), we read that Rimbault
found the earliest copy of the tune in "Walsh's collection of dances
for the year 1750 where it is printed in 6/8 time, and called Fisher's
Jig" but in his article in Leisure Hour, 1876, Rimbault turns his
back on his previous discoveries and says:

The probability is that the tune is not much older than the time of its intro-
duction into America. We know that it was popular in England at that time,
having been printed in one of Thompson's country dance books as Kitty Fisher's

A few lines below Doctor Rimbault gives "a copy of Thompson's
version of the tune which is written in triple time. It was after-
wards altered to common tune, as now known."

The contradictions between these statements are so flagrant that
suspicions of Doctor Rimbault's methods not only, but of his veracity,
are aroused. It is a disagreeable duty to attack a well-known and
defunct scholar, yet Doctor Rimbault stands convicted by his own

118 Yankee Doodle.

testimony. It may be after all that he saw our tune somewhere,
but first he discovered a "Fisher's jig" in 6 8 time in Walsh, and
then, forgetting all about this discovery, he finds it printed in triple
time as "Kitty Fisher's Jig" in Thompson. Only if both statements
are true, does Rimbault stand acquitted. Now, Mr. William Barclay
Squire in the first edition of Grove's Dictionary, has already cast
suspicions on Rimbault's statement of 1858 by the remark that
"no copy of 'Fisher's Jig' has turned up," and he was repeatedly
supported in this statement by Mr. Frank Kidson.

To make absolutely sure whether or no these two eminent authori-
ties on English folk song had found in the meanwhile evidence to
support Rimbault, carefully prepared letters of inquiry were addressed
to them which they had the kindness to answer as follows :

Mr. Squire, August 5, 1908:

We have [at the British Museum] a small collection of Country Dances pub-
lished by Walsh in 1750, but no "Yankee Doodle" is in this.

Mr. Kidson, August 12, 1908:

Dr. Rimbault's statements have never been proved. I have seen two copies
of Walsh's Dances for 1750 and have seen those for 1742, 1745, 1748, 1765, and in
fact have MS. copies of them all in full. I have many (very many) 18th century
dance collections and four or five Caledonian Country Dances (Walsh) but
nothing like Yankee Doodle in any of them. Kitty Fisher's Jig is also rum eat.

and previously Mr. Kidson had informed Mr. Albert Matthews that
he had also examined Thompson's Dances from 1751 and 1765 in
vain. Finally, Mr. Squire, September 21, 1908:

"Kitty Fisher's Jig" has never turned up ... he [Mr. Kidson] and I have
both looked thro' endless dance books in vain.

Equally void of substance appears to be the claim presented by
one J. C. in the Baltimore Clipper, 1841, that an "Air from Ulysses,"
which he found "about the year 1797" in a book of instructions
"for the bassoon" was the identical air now called Yankee Doodle,
with the exception of a few notes."

A careful reader of these quotations from J. C.'s narrative (see p.
102) can not fail to notice that the air evidently was not really identical,
that the author is contributing data to the controversy from memory
after a lapse of forty years, that he did not have the book of instruc-
tions before him when he wrote his article. No methodically trained
historian would accept such circumstantial evidence without serious
scruples. A curious circumstance about J. C.'s statement is that he
begins with a quotation from Burgh's Anecdotes, which has nothing
to do with "Yankee Doodle," but merely acquaints the reader with
the fact that John Christian Smith [recte John Christopher Smith,
1712-1795] composed an opera "Ulysses." Why this quotation?
Apparently because J. C. desired to trace the composer of an Air from

Yankee Doodle. 119

Ulysses, whom he had either forgotten or who was not mentioned in
his book of instructions. He remembered the word Ulysses in con-
nection with a tune almost identical with ''Yankee Doodle," and with
the help of Burgh's Anecdotes he conjectured a bridge between the
word Ulysses and the opera Ulysses by John Christopher Smith, which
was performed at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1733. It would seem an easy
matter to verify J. C's conjecture by a reference to Smith's score, but
unfortunately no copy of his opera has ever been discovered, nor is it
certain that the music was ever published. However, if a tune like
Yankee Doodle was in Smith's opera "Ulysses," then this jiglike tune,
must of necessity fit words in the libretto of this mythological opera.
Though such a combination appeared to be very improbable, Mr.
William Barclay Squire of the British Museum was approached in the
matter, and he wrote me under date of September 21, 1908:

Sam 1 . Humphreys' Ulysses (libretto) is here, but contains nothing to which one
can imagine Y. D. to have been sung. Here are some specimens:

Balmy Slumbers, soft Repose,

Gently cull my lovely Fair;
Send your solace to her Woes,

Ease her of said Despair, etc. etc.

Now I die with joy, to be

Chaste, and dutiful to thee;

And resign my youthful Bloom,

All untainted to the Tomb, etc. etc.

Not only this, Mr. Squire stated that he knows of no such book of
instructions for the bassoon as alluded to by J. C.

Like so many other theories of the origin of "Yankee Doodle" the
conjecture of a connection between the tune and John Christopher
Smith's opera "Ulysses" may safely be dropped.

Ere this a flaw in the J. C. statement had been suspected, and Mr.
William H. Grattan Flood in his article quoted on page 1 06, suggested
that the error of asserting an air from Ulysses as the source of the tune
might have arisen from a confusion of the designation Ulysses with a
song of that name in Dibdin's Musical Tour, 1788, the full title of which
is "The Return of Ulysses to Ithaca." As the analysis of J. C.'s state-
ments leaves it open to doubt from where the "Yankee Doodle"
melody in his book of instructions for the bassoon was taken, Mr.
Grattan Flood's suggestion is as acceptable as any. The song in ques-
tion accompanies "Letter LXXXIV" in Dibdin's Musical Tour, and
is preceded on page 341 by this bit of explanatory monologue:

"Why," said the Poet, "you may remember Mr. O'Shoknesy, the other night,
favoured us with the whole siege of Troy to an Irish tune for my part, I felt my
consequence as a poet a little touched at it and so, not to be outdone, I have
brought Ulysses back to Ithaca safely through all his perils, to the tune of Yankee
Doodle. ..."


Ya nkee Doodle.

Omitting the prelude and postlude and the accompaniment, the first
of Dibdin's eight burlesque stanzas reads:



- '!

I sing U- lys - ses and those chiefs who out of near a mil - lion So

: ' '

;- .*

luck - 1 - ly this ba - con sav'd be - fore the walls of


Van - kee doo - die, doo - die doo, black no - gro be get fum - bo and


when you come to our town we'll make you drink with bum - bo.
A facsimile of the whole song appears In the Appendix as PI. xlv-zy.

The burlesque song, by the way, was first used by Dibdin in this
form for his puppet play "Reasonable Animals," 1780.

The statement in Admiral Preble's "History of the Flag," that the
melody of " Yankee Doodle" occurs in an opera composed by Thomas
Augustine Arne about 1 750 to the words ' ' Did little Dickey ever trick
ye/' was long ago discredited by Mr. William Barclay Squire in Grove's
Dictionary. Mr. Squire called attention to the appearance of the air
under its own title in the comic opera "Two to One," of which the
libretto was written by George Colman the younger, the music
selected, arranged, and composed by Dr. Samuel Arnold and the
score published by Harrison & Co. in 1784. The song in question was
sung by Mr. Edwin in the character of Dickey Ditto. Plate XVI
shows the first stanza with the melody in facsimile.

At the time Mr. Squire held that this probably was the earliest
appearance of Yankee Doodle in print, but Mr. Frank Kidson in his
fine collection of "Old English Country Dances," 1890, pointed to an
earlier version to be found in the first volume of James Aird's "A
Selection of Scotch, English, Irish, and Foreign Airs," Glasgow. Since
Mr. Kidson could not find "any air in it, which gives a later date than
1775 or 1776," he fixed (on p. 13) the date of publication at about that
period, but the late Mr. Glen in his scholarly "Early Scottish Melodies"
fixed the date of Aird's first volume as 1782, and Mr. Kidson, in a
letter to me (Aug. 12, 1908), accepted this date as "all right." Aird's
"Yankee Doodle" is reproduced in facsimile on Plate XVII of the
appendix. No earlier appearance in print than this of 1782 has been
discovered, and the fact that the same volume contains at least one
negro jig and several "Virginian airs" would seem to prove a direct

Yankee Doodle. 121

American influence, probably called forth by the war. Presumably
"Yankee Doodle" came to Aird's notice by way of America.

If, then, the ascertained earliest appearances in print of Yankee
Doodle in Europe have been traced to (1) James Aird's Selection
. . . , first volume, Glasgow, 1782; (2) Samuel Arnold's Opera "Two
to One," London, 1874 ; (3) Charles Dibdin's "Musical Tour," Sheffield,
1788, the question suggests itself, When and where was the tune first
printed in America? In his valuable "Songs and Ballads of the
American Revolution," 1855, Mr. Moore published a ballad of the
title "The Recess." This satire, he says, first appeared at London
written by "a true friend of the King and the Colonies." "It was
reproduced in America, in 1779, on a music sheet adapted to the tune
of Yankee Doodle."

Mr. Moore does not mention publisher or place of publication of
this music sheet, nor does he point to any library in which it may be
found. He may be correct in his statement. In that case I failed to
locate the piece when compiling material for my "Bibliography of
Early Secular American Music." Until actual proof of the piece's
existence is given me, I prefer to suspect that "The Recess" was
printed without music as a broadside, perhaps with the indication
"To the tune of Yankee Doodle." The first stanza as given by Mr.
Moore reads:

And now our Senators are gone
To take their leave of London
To mourn how little they have done
How much they have left undone !

Of secular music very little was published in America before 1790,
and according to my bibliography "Yankee Doodle" did not appear
in print in America until Benjamin Carr's "Federal Overture," a
medley of patriotic songs, including "Yankee Doddle," and composed
in 1794, was published "adapted for the pianoforte" by B. Carr, New
York, in January, 1795. No copy of this appears to be extant, only
a "medley duetto adapted for two German flutes" in the fifth number
of Shaw and Carr's "Gentleman's amusement." Unfortunately the
copy of the Library of Congress, the only one that has come to my
notice lacks the very pages where one could expect to find "Yankee
Doodle* in the form given it by B. Carr. Nor have I as yet found a

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