Eighteenth-century Arts Education Research Network


Welcome to our website! The Royal Society of Edinburgh funded Eighteenth-Century Arts Education Research Network (EAERN) is a ground-breaking enterprise that brings together practitioners and scholars to investigate new approaches in using eighteenth-century arts education materials.

Over the next eighteen months, we will be holding several events that bring scholars and practitioners together who work with materials related to eighteenth-century arts education. We will be keeping this website updated with links to events, resources, audio, video and information from our network members.


Featured post

Guest blog: Douglas MacMillan, The Bird Fancyer’s Delight – a Tutor for Gentlemen and Canaries

Douglas MacMillan is an organologist and recorder player. One of the first to study the history of the recorder in the nineteenth century, he wrote his PhD thesis on ‘The Recorder 1800-1905’. He extended his studies to the flageolet in the nineteenth century for his DMus (RCM) and has just submitted a DPhil thesis at the University of Oxford on ‘Octave Flutes in England 1660-1800’. Douglas has given conference presentations and contributed articles and reviews to learned journals.

‘The Bird Fancyer’s Delight, or Choice Observations and Directions concerning ye Teaching of all Sorts of Singing-birds after ye Flagelet & Flute, if rightly made as to Size and tone, with a Method of fixing ye wett Air; in a Spung or Cotton, with Lessons properly Compos’d, with ye Compass and faculty of each Bird, Vizt. For ye Wood-lark, Black-bird, Throstle, House-sparrow, Canary-Bird, Black-thorn Linnet, garden Bull-finch and Starling.’

Thus reads the title page to an edition of The Bird Fancyer’s Delight published in 1717.
The custom of teaching caged birds to sing was first described (at least to my knowledge) in a flageolet tutor published in 1683, and continued until the middle of the nineteenth century, but was most prevalent in the eighteenth century: there is evidence for the practice in France and Germany as well as in England. It should be pointed out that this custom is quite different from using recorders and flageolets to imitate bird-song: the birds are the singers, the musician merely the teacher. In practical terms, the bird’s cage was covered with a cloth and the instructor repeated the tunes while the bird learnt to mimic them – at least in theory! At this time, the preferred instrument would have been the bird flageolet, a tiny instrument with four finger-holes and two thumb-holes although standard flageolets were no doubt used. Later English versions of the bird flageolet surviving from the early nineteenth century had six or seven finger-holes and one thumb-hole. It was to attempt to prevent condensation in the narrow windway of the bird flageolet that the sponge chamber – a windcap containing a piece of sponge to absorb moisture – was first devised, and subsequently became a feature of most nineteenth-century flageolets. The sopranino recorder (known in England at the time as ‘flute’) could be used as an alternative instrument.

The first version of The Bird Fancyer’s Delight was published in London by Walsh in 1708, but sadly no copies survive. A further edition was published by Richard Meares in 1717, closely followed in the same year by a version by Walsh and Hare, perhaps suggesting a degree of eighteenth-century plagiarism. A final version was published by Walsh and Hare in c.1730. The Bird Fancyer’s Delight contains pedagogical material not only for the birds but also for their tutors, and it is to this material that we must now turn our attention.

The pedagogical material in The Bird Fancyer’s Delight retains – at least in part – the anachronistic system of tablature notation which was applied in the seventeenth-century flageolet tutors such as Greeting’s The Pleasant Companion and the anonymous Youth’s Delight on the Flagelet. In tablature, the fingering of the notes to be sounded were indicated as strokes on a six-line stave, each line corresponding to one of the tone-holes on the instrument similar to a modern woodwind fingering chart, although in this case the tablature was used for the melody rather than purely for instructional purposes. The time values were indicated separately above the fingerings using modern notation. This cumbersome system was also employed in part in the seventeenth-century recorder tutors but had effectively been consigned to history by the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In The Bird Fancyer’s Delight, the scale is presented in both ‘dot-way’ (tablature) and ‘gamut-way’ (staff notation): the persistence of tablature into the third decade of the eighteenth century is surprising. The instructions on ‘gracing’ embracing the close shake (trill), the open shake or beat (mordent), and the slur. The material is reproduced almost verbatim from Walsh’s recorder tutor The Compleat Flute-Master of 1695, and again is rather dated, but only the close shake and slur are prescribed in The Bird Fancyer.

The Meares edition includes thirty tunes and the Walsh, forty-one. Particular keys were often assigned to individual species of bird, although the practice was not always strictly followed: the most popular bird was the bullfinch (eleven tunes), but his assigned key was C minor, hardly comfortable on a flageolet or recorder, although perhaps easier for a bird! Four of the birds were also provided with a short flourish to establish their key. Three of the tunes are given in tablature as well as in staff notation.

Unsurprisingly, the tunes are very short and are drawn from popular songs and operatic arias (particularly The Beggar’s Opera) although some were specially composed by a Mr. Hill. To give just one example, the bullfinch is assigned a triumphal march from Handel’s 1711 production of Rinaldo, duly pirated by Gaye and Pepusch to appear in The Beggar’s Opera as ‘Let us take the road’. Fortunately it is placed in the key of F rather than C minor!

The Bird Fancyer’s Delight provides us with an insight into a social practice which continued for almost two hundred years. The material is of musicological interest in that it reflects almost-lost traditions in tablature and gracing, and the selection of tunes gives an indication of popular taste in London in the early eighteenth century. Sadly, history does not relate how successful the birds were at imitating the sound of ‘the Flagelet or Flute’…

2017 Round up!

We can’t believe that it has been a year since EAERN received its funding from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and what a year it has been! We’d like to share our years’ activities with our readers, and our plans as we enter our second year.


In May we had our first colloquium held in Special Collections at the University of Glasgow, where network members and invited guests shared their work.  Bob McLean, of the University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections, had several educational works from the 18th century on display which provided many discussion points, including Polygraphice: or, the arts of drawing, engraving, etching from 1701 that had transparent pages and the Bird Fancyer’s Delight, a short book on how one can teach one’s bird to sing using the flageolet or recorder.  At the round table discussion participants began to flesh out themes across our different research areas that we hope to develop in future projects.  The highlight of the event was the 18th-century ceilidh led by Aaron McGregor and the Nathaniel Gow Dance Band.  The next morning was the first network meeting, where the core network met for the first time and discussed EAERN’s purpose and direction.



In September we travelled to the University of Swansea for the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Postgraduate Conference. We a presentation and discussion on interdisciplinary research, and how the work of EAERN could benefit postgraduates, and also what current students would like to get out of a resource like EAERN.


Our website has allowed us to share news and events and also our monthly blog series, where we have heard from different experts in the field of 18th-century studies. This is an opportunity for our core network members to share their interests and work on 18th-century education.  Bloggers so far have included network members John Butt, David McGuinness, Jennifer Thorp and Karen McAulay as well as guest contributions from Nel Whiting, who spoke at our first colloquium, and Aaron McGregor, PhD student and leader of the Nathaniel Gow Dance Band.

18th-century ceilidh dancing with The Nathaniel Gow Dance Band

Workshop series

One of the most exciting aspects of EAERN has been setting up our workshop series. The aim of the workshop series is to allow expert practitioners to demonstrate how they use 18th-century resources to learn their craft. These workshops are opportunities to share this knowledge with students, academics and interest members of the public, providing a unique networking opportunity. We have found that workshop attendees have  come to  workshops  not necessarily connected to their discipline, which further encourages opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration.  Each workshop has been recorded and added to our website to allow those who could not attend to see and hear the discussion, further contributing to our worldwide community.

Workshop 1 was an opportunity to learn 18th-century Scottish country dancing, led by The Nathaniel Gow Dance Band (also known as Concerto Caledonia). The workshop attendees, including students on the Performance and Music of Scotland through the Long 18th century courses at the University of Glasgow, fellow academics, and interested parties, heard the intricate details of constructing the tunes and dances before getting the opportunity to learn a few for themselves. In the second half of the video, the dances are in full swing and Aaron and David McGuinness (one of our core network members) contributed blog posts discussing the dance band project.

The Nathaniel Gow Dance Band workshop

Workshop 2 looked at a different aspect of dance, focusing on posture, grace and decorum rather than raucous country dancing. ‘Walk the Boards with a Natural Decorum’ brought together Jennifer Thorp (another of our core network members) and Steve Player, who discussed their different perspectives on decorum: Jennifer from the perspective of a French noblewoman, and Steve a British nobleman. In the second half of the workshop, the pair demonstrated some improvised courtly dance with elegance and grace. Jennifer discussed more of her research in a blog post, which nicely complemented her presentation.

Jennifer Thorp and Steve Player

Workshop 3 stepped out of the world of music and dance and into the realm of embroidery, an art form that dominated industry and domestic life in the 18th century. ‘Behind the Seams – A guide to 18th-century Embroidery’, presented by Auburn Lucas from the Royal School of Needlework, gave an excellent insight into the variety of embroidery collections she examined from private collectors and museums. Though many of the materials including the cloth and threads have changed, the embroidery tools and the methods are remarkably similar. Several students studying textile conservation attended as well as keen embroiderers who were excited to see Auburn’s personal work and embroidery demonstration, which can be seen throughout the video.

Auburn Lucas

Plans for the New Year include three more workshops in January, February, and March continuing to explore music, fashion and theatre. We will be contributing to the Education in the Long Eighteenth-century seminar series and we hope to participate in the Eighteenth Century Scottish Studies Society conference in Glasgow in July.

We are planning another colloquium for summer 2018, where our core network will get together to discuss our ongoing work and future plans for EAERN. We will continue our monthly blog series, featuring core network members as well as guest bloggers working on eighteenth-century arts education. If you have a topic that matches the themes and aims of EAERN and would like to contribute a post, please get in touch.

For further information about our workshop series, please visit our workshop series page, follow us on Twitter @EAERNing, join our Facebook page or, if you haven’t done so yet, sign up to our email list. Speaking of which, our email list includes contacts from Europe, the United States, and Australia. We are pleased to have so many people who are interested in our work, and we would like to say thank you!

Finally, from the EAERN team, we would like to wish you a happy holiday season and all the best for 2018!

Image: This print was drawn by an artist named Collings, engraved by Barlow, and published by Bentley & Co. of London, England in 1791. Taken from

Eighteenth-Century Dance in Modern Scholarship and Practice: a case study, and the role of EAERN in cooperative projects

This blogpost is written by Jennifer Thorp, who is an archivist and dance historian working in Oxford. She is also a member of the EAERN steering group.


This blogpost derives from different strands of my own research and performance practice in eighteenth century dance, in the light of the cooperative ventures between academics and practitioners encouraged by EAERN. Into the melting pot have gone parts of the presentation I gave at the EAERN Colloquium in May 2017, part of my (ongoing) work to catalogue the dance section of the Montagu Music Collection at Boughton House, and performances of dances with a Montagu connection. In turn, all that has also provoked revisions and corrections (also ongoing!) to the editorial commentary on F. Le Roussau’s Collection of New Ball- and Stage Dances 1720 (Edinburgh University Library, MS La.III. 673), a facsimile of which I had published a few years ago, and which turns out to form a case study linking these various strands.

The basic tools of historical research – sifting evidence from primary and secondary sources for biographical, bibliographical, topographic, iconographic and musicological evidence – each contribute to answering research questions; in this instance even at the most basic level of who was F. Le Roussau? Where did he work as a dancer or choreographer? How was he connected with the Dukes of Montagu? Nothing was known about Le Roussau beyond the title-pages of his manuscript Collection…1720 and his skilfully engraved notations of Anthony L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances (the similarity of titles was probably deliberate) a few years later, in which he referred to himself respectively as ‘F. Le Roussau, Dancing-master’ and ‘Monsieur Roussau, Dancing-master’ living in London. It is clear from the 1720 manuscript that he had kept abreast of some of the French theatrical dance repertoire, either by seeing it in Paris or by discussing it closely with French dancers who came to London to perform at the Little Theatre, Haymarket. Newspapers of the time confirm that Le Roussau himself was also employed at that theatre, creating and performing comic and pastoral dances there. In the late-twentieth century a wild guess by a French dance specialist that he must have been named François was made on no convincing evidence, and the determination of several dance historians to spell his surname as ‘Rousseau’ added another layer of confusion which got the research hackles rising nicely.

Although not much is documented of the interrelationships of the Little Theatre in the Haymarket and Handel’s Royal Academy of Music just up the road in the King’s Theatre, they do reveal some important insights to Le Roussau. In 1719-20 Anthony L’Abbé was set to become the resident choreographer for Handel’s new Royal Academy operas, until the exorbitant costs of hiring Italian singers left no money in the budget for a dance troupe and such dancers as were required in Handel operas were probably borrowed from the Little Theatre (this is suggested by comparing the performance rostas of the two houses, for they usually alternated performance nights). That in turn led the research to Boughton, when it became apparent that the most significant patron of Le Roussau was probably John 2nd Duke of Montagu (1640-1749). The discovery at Boughton of a copy of L’Abbé’s New Collection as published by Le Roussau seemed a good omen.

In the 1720s the Little Theatre was practically owned by the Duke of Montagu, who was also one of the early directors of Handel’s Royal Academy. He would later employ Anthony L’Abbé to teach his daughter prior to her wedding in 1730, by which time L’Abbé had commissioned Le Roussau to notate and publish his New Collection of Dances; it is highly unlikely that the three men did not know each other. Indeed Le Roussau probably dedicated his Collection … 1720 to the Duke, for the first dance in it is named The Montaigu, and several of the dances unique to the manuscript reveal a sense of humour aimed at the Duke’s well-known love of masquerades and practical jokes. In The Montaigu Le Roussau alternates sections of minuet and gavotte during which two dancers spell out spatially, in their floor tracks, the letters of Montagu’s name. It was probably never intended to be performed and does not actually work well as a duet (we tried it out on Montagu’s descendant, the present Duke of Buccleuch, who owns the Montagu Music Collection at Boughton, and apparently only the letters M and O make any sense to an audience; the final letter (V, posing as the letter U as they were often interchangeable) is incomprehensible until you see that no matter from what direction you look at the notation, it is made up of interlocking Vs). But as a joke on paper the whole dance works very well.

The pursuit of these different avenues of historical context made it easier to solve the question of F. Le Roussau’s full name; not François but Ferdinand, who worked in London in the 1720s, before ending his days as dancing- and fencing-master to the Naval Academy at Portsmouth, where he died in 1736. Moreover it allowed consideration of a fourth question – how did Le Roussau’s Collection end up in Edinburgh when all the available information on his career in the 1720s indicates that he worked in London? The answer to that is tantalising, for although we know that Edinburgh University acquired the Collection in 1878 among the music books and papers of the Edinburgh bibliophile Dr David Laing (1793-1878), and that he often amassed them from booksellers and ‘the sweepings of some lawyer’s office’, as the EUL’s typescript Guide to MSS (1993) puts it, it is not known from where those dealers and lawyers had previously acquired them. John Duke of Montagu’s granddaughter Elizabeth married the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch in 1767 and removed to Dalkeith Palace near Edinburgh, and one cannot help wondering whether Le Roussau’s manuscript Collection may have strayed or been sold from there at some date in the nineteenth century. Regrettably, we’ll probably never know for sure.

The tools of historical research by definition cope well with many aspects of eighteenth-century dance. Academic and national libraries and archive repositories provide primary and secondary sources of relevance, and they also have facilities for consulting digitised collections and specialist databases held elsewhere, and present great scope for cooperative work. In due course the Montagu Music Collection at Boughton will also become accessible for research. While its dance component does not contain much that is unique, it nevertheless is strong on eighteenth century dance manuals and music, Scottish and English social dances, and late-eighteenth century London ballet scores.

Meanwhile, what about performance? These notated dances do not come to life, and cannot persuade modern choreographers that they have something powerful to offer, unless they are performed. At Boughton there have been two performances of music and dances based on the Montagu Music Collection, and a more ambitious performance at the Utrecht Early Music Festival in 2015, together with informal links with the Sound Heritage project at Southampton University and with EAERN. All have proved very successful.

Boughton concert 2015 jennifer thorp
Boughton Concert, 2015

We can learn from the pedagogic evidence of the day (and there is quite a lot of it) how people studied dance in the eighteenth century. The young apprentice dancer Kellom Tomlinson for instance learned his trade in 1708 by studying the commonest notation system of the time, Beauchamps-Feuillet, and he did so by notating standard steps in different time signatures, fitting them to a sample of music and finally graduating with the skills to record his own choreography according to the conventions of the day concerning symmetry and step vocabulary. That still remains a core element of analysing early-eighteenth century dances today, along with more complex discussions of rhythms, phrasing, expression and choreographic structure, and the practicalities of the subject will always require cooperation between specialist dancers, musicians and historians of costume and culture. There is of course also the sociable side of eighteenth century dancing, from ballrooms to village greens. Those dances can reveal a lot because they were part of everyday life for the people concerned. For much of the second half of the century they are well documented in novels, letters and diaries, formal regulations of assembly rooms, and innumerable collections of music with dance directions. They do not require years of training, the ability to read arcane dance notation, or profound analysis. Cotillions and country dances (both English and Caledonian) were hugely popular in the eighteenth century and also provide us today with enjoyable gateways into that world while enhancing our understanding of it.


Professor John Butt: ‘Understanding and context’

John Butt is Gardiner Professor of Music at the University of Glasgow and musical director of Edinburgh’s Dunedin Consort. In this post, he reflects on his interests in eighteenth-century education and how this interest has inspired areas of his research.

logga-png-swirl-upI have always been interested in the role of education in the formation of musicians of all kinds, but in principle all aspects of education and its influence on culture, prosperity and the escape from deprivation, concern me. My first research activity centred on performing practices in the 18th century and this involved studying many pedagogic sources in addition to original manuscripts and editions. What soon became absolutely clear to me was that treatises and primers could not be read and understood in a vacuum and always required an understanding of the context of original writers and readers but also of the educational environment.

Much of my work as both researcher and performer has centred on J.S. Bach and I have always been fascinated by what we know of his own education and also by the backgrounds of those who sang and played for him, particularly the best singers in the school in Leipzig where he spent over half his working life. Something of this concern became the subject of a book back in 1994, which looked at music education in German (largely Lutheran) educational institutions from 1520-1800. One of the things that came out of this was my growing awareness of styles of learning and how these began to change in the seventeenth century (towards a more pupil- focussed approach) and then towards a more rationalised, accessible, approach in the eighteenth.

The latter century of course also witnesses the major growth in amateur performance together with an increasing sense of ‘division of labour’, by which professionals became more targeted towards one role or instrument. Attempting to understand these issues has had a profound influence on my approach to the performance of music, but also to the understanding of listenership as THE crucial (if not always evident) element in the health of any music culture.

A final way in which conceptions of music relate to eighteenth-century education lies in the rapid decline in the traditional cosmic view of music (i.e. as of a piece with God’s creation and the proportions of the universe) and the gradual development of music as a fine art somehow rooted in the depths of human expression. This helps explain something of the huge decline of music in certain traditional areas of education but its reciprocal growth in other areas of training and activity.

Mrs Bertram’s Music Borrowing: Reading Between the Lines

This blogpost is written by Dr Karen McAulay, Performing Arts Librarian and Postdoctoral Researcher at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  Karen has recently been awarded AHRC funding to establish a network, Claimed From Stationers’ Hall, researching early legal deposit music in British Libraries.

Link: and Twitter @ClaimedStatHall


The University of St Andrew’s Library has a long and illustrious history, and its Special Collections contain many treasures.  Compared to some of the rare and ancient print and manuscript tomes, the 460 bound volumes of assorted pieces of Georgian British sheet music might seem trivial by comparison.  Nonetheless, the Copyright Music Collection, amassed under legal deposit largely between the end of the eighteenth century and 1836, was sorted and bound in sturdy volumes from 1801 onwards, even gaining its own handwritten catalogue in the 1820s.  From that time, every music loan was recorded – along with all the textbooks and literature also acquired under legal deposit – in massive ledgers with pages for each professor or student.  These documents have enabled me to examine in detail which music was popular, and with whom.  The results of interrogating this data are particularly pertinent to the aims of EAERN, because it gives us such useful information about which late eighteenth and early nineteenth century music and instructional treatises, were actually being used in one particular university town. We can unearth titles that may have long been forgotten, and can quantify where a particular category of material was used by different kinds of borrowers.

For example, when a professor borrowed music on his own account, we don’t know who performed it at home.  However, professors also borrowed music for their friends, many of them women, and in the first couple of decades of the nineteenth century, many were “Misses”.  Their names were noted alongside the volumes that they took out. In the context of women’s education, this is all very interesting.  Conversely, it is also interesting to me to observe how this musical activity fits into the other subjects that formed part of Regency education, which is why the EAERN network is so relevant to my research.

On the flyleaf of one of the volumes (UYLY 206/6, years 1814-19), I observed that some music had been returned from someone called Mrs Bertram:-

“1816. Feb: Music Nos. 17, 32, 130 sent from Mrs Bertrams & No.142 supposed to have been left there by Mr Henderson.”

Further down the page, another entry noted, “Retd by the Misses Bertram Music Nos.4”

The flyleaves of the ledgers are habitually filled with scribbled notes listing music and other items, perhaps jotted down in haste or before a new ledger was commenced; it would be easy to leap to false conclusions when there’s little information to go on.  Nonetheless, there was a certain charm about the thought that Mrs Bertram had kindly returned not only her own music but someone else’s as well, and that her daughters had also brought music back to the library, perhaps around the same time.

Who, I wondered, was Mrs Bertram, and how many daughters did she have?  She and her daughters borrowed music between 1813 and 1820 – before the catalogue had been completed.  (We don’t know if it might already have been commenced.)  We do know that the latest volume borrowed by the Bertrams was volume 203, containing music published in 1819.

We also know that the ladies borrowed through the good offices of several different professors! Professor Henry David Hill, Dr Robertson, Dr Briggs and Dr Haldane all signed music out for them. Moreover, although the author of the flyleaf note believed Mr Henderson to have left music at their house, the loan records seem to suggest otherwise, with none of the listed volumes having been issued to the Bertrams, nor to Mr Henderson, but two to other professors, and two to “Misses” who were not Bertrams, through the hands of other academics. Handwritten record-keeping wasn’t always easy. Who knows where the music had been before being returned to the library?!

Some detective-work in archival records and contemporary newspapers revealed an interesting story. Mrs Bertram, in fact, ran a successful boarding-school in St Leonards, until around March 1826 – the Fife Herald announced on Thursday 9th March that she was leaving St Andrews, where she had “so long and so successfully conducted the well known seminary for young ladies”.  Her daughters also taught there.  By August that year, she and four daughters were advertising her new boarding school, Newington House, in the Edinburgh Advertiser:- “The utmost attention is paid to the religious and moral instruction of the pupils.  Newington House is delightfully situated in the southern suburbs of Edinburgh … Mrs Bertram expects, in a few weeks, to have the assistance of a Parisian lady, a Protestant …”

Much more could be related about Mrs Bertram’s circumstances, but suffice to say that her husband had been a published expert on farm horses, then a corn merchant in St Andrews until he ran into financial difficulties in 1808.

The Bertrams had five daughters and one son between 1792 and 1803; so one presumes that Mrs Bertram didn’t open her boarding school until some time in the second decade of the nineteenth century.  (One girl seems to have died by 1826.)  At the time her school in St Leonards was being sold, two of her daughters were improving their education in France.

She was at Newington House, a sizeable property in what looks to have been fairly generous gardens, until certainly 1833-4, but was living elsewhere in Edinburgh a couple of years later, and was living with three of her daughters, a married son and some servants in the 1841 census.  By this stage Mrs Bertram was aged 80, certainly due a leisurely retirement.

A former Newington House teacher, Miss Foggo, opened a school with her own mother in 1835, boasting the teaching of theory of music, “teaching music in classes, the elementary parts on the Logerian System [a music teaching method] – Private Teaching as usual.”  We could infer that Miss Foggo had taught along similar lines at Newington House, too.

Can we also infer that Mrs and the Misses Bertram borrowed music for the use of their pupils at St Leonard’s, before they moved to Edinburgh?  I can offer no explanation for the fact that no further music was borrowed between 1820 and 1826.  Nonetheless, a quick look at the music that they did borrow, between 1813-1820, reveals the borrowing of a couple of decidedly educational volumes, with instructional material for the harp and other topics:-

  • Mademoiselle Merelle’s Instructions for the pedal harp in two volumes (1899)
  • Kollmann’s Practical Guide to Thorough Bass (1801)
  • Instructions for the Piano & 8 Sonatinas by M. Camidge (1794)
  • A Treatise on practical Thorough Bass by Jackson (1791/5)
  • Instructions for ye pedal Harp (No title page)
  • A treatise on Harmony by Griffith Jones (1792/5)
  • Rules for Thorough Bass, op.7 by Smethergel (1791)

The Bertrams also borrowed a lot of piano music and songs, some national songs, not to mention vocal ensembles, hymns, organ voluntaries, dances and a ballet, and a couple of books of accompaniments.

There is ample evidence in William Thackeray’s satirical novel Vanity Fair (published in 1847, but set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars), that young ladies were taught music and dancing at boarding schools.  It would thus not appear unreasonable to posit that Mrs Bertram and her daughters may well have used the University’s valuable music resource in instructing their pupils, or if not, then certainly in improving their own musical abilities in order to do so.

The Bertrams would have had about 200 volumes to choose from, by ca.1820.  Their choices included some of the more popular volumes in the collection, although it is difficult to draw precise statistical conclusions about the popularity of individual volumes without also considering the contents of each volume, the date when it might have been bound, and the number of years it was available for borrowing.

Unearthing the history of Mrs Bertram and her boarding schools has also, in passing, enabled me to suggest a possible identification for the hitherto unknown subject of an early photograph taken by Edinburgh photographer David Octavius Hill in the mid-1840s.  There are copies of these photographs at Glasgow University Library – they appear in the catalogue – and also in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.  A very old, but distinguished looking lady known only as “Mrs Bertram”, is captured sitting thoughtfully, holding a book and resting an arm on more books, from the earliest era of calotype photography.  Our headmistress was certainly still alive in 1841, and would have been in her early to mid-eighties when the picture was taken.  She was of the status that might have merited a portrait in this new medium.  It cannot be proven indisputably, but it would be nice to think that I have found her.

Featured Image: With permission of University of Glasgow Library ASC, Shelf mark: HA0739.

Workshop Series

We are very excited to announce our upcoming workshop series, which will take place at the University of Glasgow. Get your dancing shoes on and experience 18th-century Scottish country dance with The Nathaniel Gow Dance Band at our first workshop. This will take place at the University of Glasgow Concert Hall on Friday, 13 October at 1715-1900.

The next workshop will be delivered by Jennifer Thorp and Steve Player, where they will venture into discussions on deportment and decorum in a workshop entitled ‘Walk the Boards with a Natural Decorum?’. This takes place on Thursday, 9 November in Room 2, 14 University Gardens at 1715 and is a must for performers!

Ever wondered what 18th-century ladies did throughout their day? Workshop 3 ventures into the world of embroidery where Auburn Lucas will be discussing the intricacies and importance of sewing in the 18th century. This takes place on Thursday, 7 December in Room 2, 14 University Gardens at 1715 and there may be some opportunities to get up close and personal with some beautiful workshops of art. The perfect pre-Christmas treat.

In the New Year, Mhairi Lawson will kick off the workshop series on Thursday, 18 January in Room 2, 14 University Gardens at 1715 with a workshop on 18th-century singing techniques. Perfect for all budding singers and instrumentalists alike!

Lesley Miller will be discussing the world of 18th-century French fashion in her workshop entitled ‘Weaving a path into art and commerce: the training and education of silk designers’, which will take place on Thursday, 8 February in Room 2, 14 University Gardens at 1715.

Last, but by no means least, Jed Wentz will treat us to a fascinating workshop on the art of gesture, which will take place on Friday, 2 March in the University of Glasgow Concert Hall at 1715.     

All the workshop events are free and open to all, so we encourage you to come along. Refreshments will be available before and after each workshop.  We encourage you to spread the word widely by sharing on social media and tagging us @EAERNing #EAERN&LEAERN.


Reviving the 18th-century dance night

This blog post is written by Aaron McGregor, who is currently undergoing his PhD research at the University of Glasgow on ‘The violin in Scotland from its beginnings to 1750’. Aaron gave some insight into his work with Concerto Caledonia by teaching some 18th-century Scottish dances at the EAERN colloquium. He also played for the workshop alongside his bandmate Alison McGillivray.


This blog post is a follow-up to David McGuinness’s musings last month on the ongoing Nathaniel Gow’s Dance Band project with Concerto Caledonia. Over the past two years, the ensemble has been exploring the musical world of the Scottish dance band of the late 18th century, bringing together performers from across the spectrum of period performance, traditional music and dance. We use gut-strung fiddles, cello, and Scottish small-pipes, recreating the sounds and techniques of the 18th century, and utilising the vast and relatively untapped resource of hundreds of printed collections from late 18th- and early 19th-century Scotland. These volumes offer a real insight into historical practice, not only presenting tunes, but including accompaniments in the form of bass lines, and in several collections, country dance instructions.

In 2015-16, we recorded an album and gave a handful of performances and radio broadcasts, but what really struck me was a relatively small aspect of the project: we taught a few dances to unsuspecting audiences at the Cottier Chamber Project in Glasgow and in London’s Café Oto.

My background of accompanying social dancing has predominantly been with modern ceilidh bands, so the experience of performing without amplification was an eye-opener. The two-part texture and stark, rhythmical bass lines of 18th-century collections suddenly made complete sense. The range of details possible in performance is completely different according to venues and dancers: in our quadrille ball at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms in January, the natural amplification of the musician’s gallery (and the social etiquette of the dancers, who largely danced in silence) gave space for more intricate details and harmony parts, but these would have been completely redundant in the hustle and bustle of our Òran Mór ceilidhs.

It also struck me that most of my experience performing for period dancing has been with dancers with a relatively large amount of prior expertise – events were well-rehearsed, and largely performed and appreciated in silence (apart from the music). There is plenty of iconographical evidence for 18th-century dances which look nothing like this, where social dancing more closely resembles a modern ceilidh. No doubt dances differed according to venue, but we know that country dances at events such as penny weddings sometimes brought together people from across the social spectrum.

We focused the second wave of the dance band project entirely on social dancing, with a series of historic ceilidh nights at Glasgow venues Òran Mór and the Glad Café in early 2017. The challenge was to combine the sociability and format of a modern ceilidh – complete with a caller who teaches the dances with 18th-century dance instructions, style, and repertoire. We invited historical dancer Steve Player and ceilidh caller David Munn to help us interpret the original dance instructions and present these for a 21st-century audience. After much experimentation, we came up with a format which begins with figures familiar to the regular ceilidh dancer, and gradually introduces more complex movements. The original dance instructions contain only the figures, and don’t indicate stepping – what the feet are doing going from figure to another, or what to do for improvisatory sections labeled as setting or ‘footing it’. We incorporated some of the steps given in Francis Peacock’s 1805 treatise, including the basic travelling step, the kemshóole, and the setting step the kemkóssy (you can see the latter in the video below).

Already the ceilidh nights have moved beyond historical reenactment, to a constantly shifting experience, as new and regular audiences, and our collective of performers get to know the repertoire of dances and ways of working with an acoustic ensemble on period instruments. Personally, the dance band has been a chance for me to bring together the various strands of my own working life as a musician and researcher, and I have developed new expertise as a caller for 18th-century country dances. This has offered new insight into the multi-faceted world of 18th-century fiddlers, whose careers often combined the roles of performer, teacher, and dancing master.


dance at a wedding
The Penny Wedding (c.1795) by David Allan, in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland.


Concerto Caledonia – Ceilidh Night

Featured Image: The Cross Well of Edinburgh, from Robert Bremner, A Collection of Scots Reels or Country Dances (1757-61)

Portraits and family life: Nel Whiting

In this post, we hear from our guest blogger Nel Whiting, a PhD student at the University of Dundee. She spoken at the first EAERN colloquium on her fascinating work related to portraits and family life.

logga-png-swirl-upI recently had the great privilege to attend, and give a paper at, the colloquium organised by EAERN (the second such event I have attended). I don’t use that word, privilege, lightly and the ‘gosh-wow’ feeling was twofold: firstly, related to the opportunity to hear about others’ research (more of which later); secondly because the paper I gave was actually a little tangential to EAERN’s focus to investigate eighteenth-century arts education and the development of artisan institutions such as music conservatories, schools of art. I want to reflect a little on the value of the network for a PhD student like me but in order so to do I will first say a little about my research project.

I am using Scottish family group portraits from the period 1740–1790 to explore what they tell us about elite family life in Scotland. As a feminist historian, I am particularly interested in the gendered nature of family life and am considering what the portraits express about the nuptial union, childhood, motherhood and fatherhood. But I am also interested to find out if there was anything specifically Scottish about the tropes identified in the portraits; that is, was Scottish elite family life different in any way to that in England and elsewhere?

David Allan, Sir John Halkett of Pitfirrane, 4th Bart, Mary Hami
The Family Sir John Halkett of Pitfirrane (dated 1781) by David Allan, in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland

My primary sources are largely group portraits such as this beautiful picture of the family Sir John Halkett of Pitfirrane by David Allan (1744-1796). In the canon of art history such pictures might be seen by some as decidedly second rate. Considering as both aesthetic objects and in terms of their social content as I do, liberates them from discussions as to whether they are great art or not and allows them to be seen as part of a discursive network that produced and reproduced cultural ideas. Employing this dual lens the pictures can be seen to pulsate with contemporaneous concerns; it is as if the painter holds a mirror up to the sensibilities of the time and a magnifying glass to the minutiae of everyday life, creating a tableau of ever-evolving socio-cultural norms. It also enables the portraits to be viewed as part of material culture where concerns of patronage, production, presentation and display are central. I hope this will lead, in a small way, to a revaluation of often overlooked works as well as to a contribution to our understanding of the ways that gender and national identity were understood, performed and displayed in the period.

It can be seen from what I have said so far that my research focus does not cohere absolutely with EAERN’s first goal. Yet the portrait also highlights how singing, dancing, music making were an important part of family life, with such activities being depicted quite frequently in such pictures. So there is an overlap between my work and that of the network. And that is really the point I wish to make: it is easy, especially for PhD researchers, to become narrow in focus or tunnel visioned, concentrating only on their thesis project. Taking a deep breath, looking up, looking around and exploring your period or subject matter more widely can really enhance your knowledge, scope and research. A multi-disciplinary network such as EAERN (and another of its goals is to enable cross-disciplinary dialogue) really facilitates this, enabling those who join to learn of issues around their subject. So far, those who have attended EAERN events have looked at music folios and etiquette.

Twitter handle – @nel_whiting

‘Thus Education makes the Genius bright’: David McGuinness, dancing, music and EAERN

The following blog post is written by Dr David McGuinness, Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Glasgow and one of our core network members!

logga-png-swirl-upI came to 18th-century studies as a musician, mostly interested in how to perform the music of the period as effectively as possible. But once you start asking questions about this, the answers take you down lots of unexpected historical routes, and you end up asking not just about how the music was made, but about what it meant to the people who first planned and made it, and why they bothered to make music in the first place. The ‘how’ is only the beginning: the musician can also ask the actor’s cliché, ‘What’s my motivation here?’

I also became aware that I’d never been taught music using a Scottish textbook, which is strange given that Scotland was producing printed music educational resources from the 1660s onwards. We still tend to look elsewhere first for inspiration (a healthy instinct) but can neglect our own history, which might have unique and relevant things to contribute. The 18th century saw huge changes in Scottish society, which were reflected in musical practices: the church loosened its attitude towards music, Italian musicians were celebrated and welcomed, music publishing in Edinburgh took off with the growth of the middle classes, and there were new opportunities for professional musicians to earn a living, often by being innovative in their teaching.

The beginnings of Scottish country dancing

With Concerto Caledonia and the AHRC bass culture project I’ve been looking at the early development of what we now know as Scottish dance music, and we’ve been testing out our 18th-century dance band with a variety of audiences. A comparison of the two male dancers in the famous David Allan painting of a Highland Wedding shows the wealthier man displaying the results of his dance lessons quite precisely, while in the background the other’s execution of the same dance figure is more reckless.

David Allan, Highland Wedding (1780) National Galleries of Scotland

Similarly, earlier this year we played a couple of gigs within a few weeks where some of the music and dances were the same, but the way in which they were presented and danced were entirely different. Professional musicians in late 18th-century Edinburgh were employed to play for a variety of audiences, whether in the Theatre Royal band, the orchestra of the Edinburgh Musical Society, for a ball in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms, or at local country dances.

Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, 11 March 2017, Photo taken by Juliette Lichman
Òran Mór, Glasgow, 27 March 2017

Allan Ramsay

I’ve also been doing some preliminary work on the songs of Allan Ramsay, as part of preparation for the Edinburgh Allan Ramsay edition. In Ramsay’s collection The Tea-Table Miscellany the songs are all based on apparently well-known tunes, but how did people sing them, and where? They’re not in a stagey operatic style but they’re not folk songs either, and some of the early musical sources are very ornate, and require considerable vocal technique. The tea-table was generally a polite female environment (the men were in the coffee house or the tavern), so how much, if at all, were these songs about displaying the kind of technical accomplishment that young middle-class women were expected to develop a century later?

It’s impossible to understand this material in terms of a simple ‘elite vs. folk’ classification, and if there is some truth in Scotland’s class system being based on education rather than family history, then the role of music education could be a key ingredient in understanding more than just Ramsay’s songs.

Negotiating a balance between schooling and naturalism is a key theme in Ramsay’s 1720s pastoral ballad opera The Gentle Shepherd. Sir William Worthy is delighted to find out that the shepherd Patie has employed much of his spare time travelling to Edinburgh to obtain a wide range of books – this is a thinly-veiled advert for Ramsay’s own bookshop and library – but when Patie’s aristocratic origins are eventually revealed, the shepherd complains to his friend Roger about the more mannered education he will now have to undergo:

To Edinburgh straight to-morrow we advance,
To London neist, and afterwards to France,
Where I must stay some Years, and learn—to dance,
And twa three other Monky-tricks.—That done,
I come hame struting in my red-heel’d Shoon.

Still, Act 3 ends with Sir William’s (and perhaps Ramsay’s?) manifesto for 18th-century education, as an artful polishing of the rough human state.

Like the rough Diamond, as it leaves the Mine,
Only in little Breakings shew its Light,
Till artfu’ Polishing has made it shine :
Thus Education makes the Genius bright.




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