Library and Information Services, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

On this day, 10th November 1827

William Stenhouse (1773-1827)

One of the most important early historians of Scottish song, William Stenhouse, died in 1827.  Impoverished, his widow ended up in the workhouse.  Not much of an ending for an elderly lady whose husband had compiled the "Illustrations" which accompanied Robert Burns and James Johnson's Scots Musical Museum.*

Actually, the Illustrations had nothing to do with pictures - they were annotations on every single song in the Musical Museum volumes.

Stenhouse's Illustrations  weren't published in his lifetime - that was done by librarian David Laing, later.  In fact, the Illustrations appeared in various guises - alone, as a single volume, or bound in with the Scots Musical Museum itself, and they were reissued with extra comments, later in the century.  Some of his historical comments were fanciful or even misguided, but he made a significant start, and many later musicians referred back to his work.

Look at the Illustrations in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's Whittaker Library - catalogue entry here.  You can read more about Stenhouse in a recent doctoral thesis, 'Our Ancient National Airs', by Karen E. McAulay. 
Roxburghshire, birthplace of William Stenhouse
(thanks to for image)

* "Elderly?" Actually, only a little older than Whittaker "himself", come to think of it ... longevity wasn't so great in those days.

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