Dorothy “Dolly” Pentreath [1692–1777]; Shanawdithit [1801–1829]; Fidelia Fielding [1827–1908]; “Ned” Maddrell [1877/8–1974]; Tevfik Esenç [1904–1992]. Do you have any idea what this disparate group of people have in common?
Each of them was the last native speaker of a language that subsequently vanished as a living mode of communication.
In the early years of the 20th century, anthropologists, linguists, folklorists and other academics ventured from their classrooms to record minority cultures vanishing in the advance of mass culture. John Wesley Powell, founding director of the Bureau of American Ethnology, sought “to organize anthropologic research in America.” In the current political maelstrom, such an idea is laughable.
In a similar way, composers and performers of music abandoned concert halls, scouring the countryside with early recording devices to transcribe and record folk music before it had completely disappeared. Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly did for Hungarian culture what Percy Grainger and Ralph Vaughan Williams did for Great Britain, and we are all better off for their efforts. One of Grainger’s recordings, in fact, found its way to Frederick Delius, whose orchestration can reduce me to tears because I link it with the death of my grandmother.
It was on the fifth of August / The weather fair and mild / Unto Brigg Fair I did repair / For a love I was inclined
I got up with the lark in the morning / And my heart was full of glee / Expecting there to meet my dear / Long time I’d wished to see
I looked over my left shoulder / To see what I might see / And there I spied my own true love / Come a-tripping down to me
I took hold of her lily-white hand / And merrily sang my heart / For now we are together / We never more shall part
For the green leaves, they will wither / And the roots, they shall decay / Before that I prove false to her / The lass that loves me well
[Recorded on wax cylinder in Lincolnshire in 1905 by Percy Grainger. Incidentally, that antique recording device is the actual machine used by Grainger.]
Typically, this is my long way round the barn to reintroduce the topic of the Fennimore County Fairgrounds and its evolution. Now that the semester is complete (more or less), I can get back to filling some of Agincourt’s gaps.