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"TENTING ON THE OLD CAMP GROUND,"
AND ITS COMPOSER.
By Gordon Hall Gerould.
KNEW a very wise man," wrote Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, long ago, to the Marquis of Montrose, "that believed that if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws, of a nation."
The rare privilege of making a nation's songs is given to no one man. Often it is granted to those who make no claim to literary distinction or great learning, but who pour out their deep and universal feeling in simple melody that takes a people captive. The fame of such composers is largely merged in the renown of their songs; yet they have their reward in the enduring power of their work over men's hearts. Such a composer is Mr. Walter Kittredge, whose name indeed is widely known by the older generation, but whose greatest song, "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground," is one of the enduring legacies of the Civil War to America.
Mr. Kittredge's own testimony concerning folk songs is of value. "I believe," he once told me, "that one must be almost ashamed of his song at first, because of its simplicity, if he is going to make a success. He must feel what he is writing, actually see it, if he is going to write a song that will move men. I tell you," he added, "a song will often do more than a speech." So it has proved in his own. case. The song which seemed to him most simple has been his greatest success. Though heralded by no trumpets, it yet became within a few months of its publication, as sung by the author and his companions, the famous Hutchinsons, a household word all over the country. It has been sung on battlefields and by camp-fires, in war and in peace. It
has become incorporated into the national life as only a few other songs have been.
Walter Kittredge was born at Reed's Ferry, New Hampshire, October 8, 1834. He was the tenth of eleven children. His father, Eri Kittredge, was a prosperous farmer and owner of a thriving brickyard. Five sons settled near him as they grew up. Of the eleven children, only two still survive, Walter Kittredge and his youngest brother. As a boy, Walter Kittredge went to the district school near his home, and later, while helping his father at brickmaking and farming during a large part of the year, he attended the Merrimack Normal Institute during the winter. months.
He early became interested in music, and with his older sister Sophia, who herself had a remarkable voice, studied singing and harmony as best he could. The brother and sister practised faithfully, and used to please the brickmakers at their work and the people of the village by their singing. Their first musical instrument was a rude flute which Walter constructed from the stalk of a seed onion. When he was between twelve and fifteen, their father bought a seraphine, a rough reed instrument, with which they learned to play and to read music readily.
Kittredge's first ambition as a young man was for the stage. To one who has heard him sing and who remembers the dramatic power of his expression, his
success as a n actor would not seem to have been problematical. Indeed, the the songs in character which he was accustomed to introduce into his concerts used to be among his most popular productions. He studied
deon on to a rack behind his wagon, and with little noise started on a tour through the villages of the county. His repertoire consisted chiefly of old popular ballads like "King Solomon's Temple" and "A Bachelor's Woe." He interspersed the songs with recitations, Poe's "Raven" and "Bells," with other American favorites, and humorous selections like "A Smack in School." He held the entertainments in small, bare, candle-lighted country halls, or in the churches, which were scarcely less desolate.
ily, who had already made their reputation as singers in the antislavery cause and whose history has lately been written by the surviving brother. With the Hutchinsons, Mr. Kittredge sang at intervals for twenty years, a great part of the time with Joshua Hutchinson. During the years preceding the Civil War, though separated for a time in 1857, the two travelled together extensively over New England and into New York, Pennsylvania and Canada. They sang simple patriotic and popular songs.
elocution as carefully as singing, and undoubtedly, if his family with their inherited hatred of the theatre had not opposed, would have followed his bent. As it was, he had to abandon his plan and aid his father till he came of age.
After he was twenty-one, Mr. Kittredge determined to strike out for himself as a concert singer, beginning in a very humble way. He bought a horse and wagon from an older brother, had some advertising bills printed in Boston, strapped a melo
Gradually, as need required, Mr. Kittredge began to compose airs of his own and words to fit the music. In time they came to make up their concerts largely from this source, and in 1862 gathered the songs into a little book.
When the Rebellion broke out, in
MR. KITTREDGE'S BOYHOOD HOME. terest in concerts declined, but there was an increased demand for patriotic singing at mass meetings, both in country and in city. The Hutchinsons and Mr. Kittredge became more widely known and were sought after as the great patriotic singers of New England. They attended numberless out-of-door gatherings for the support of the Union cause and stirred much slumbering loyalty into life by their
"In my best days," Mr. Kittredge has told the writer, "I thought that I wasn't singing at my best at all, unless I could make my audience first cry and then laugh on the very next song. That's the secret of popular
singing. Make your audience understand by pronouncing plainly, and if you feel the song yourself, you can carry them with you. Learning to enunciate distinctly is half of popular singing. It is so to-day, for all the advance music has made."
When in Boston during the war, Mr. Kittredge used sometimes to go out of an evening with a plain wagon and sing to the people in the streets. Even in the times of greatest excitement he received respectful attention when he began to sing. Sometimes the mob would fill the street from side to side and surge around his wagon, but even in the worst quarters of the city no one ever attempted to do him harm. One night as he stood on the wagon seat that all might see him as he sang, the horse started and pitched him headlong into the crowd. A great cry went up, which changed to a shout of joy as the singer rose unhurt and clambered back into the wagon.
In the midst of a life like this, alternating the excitement of the great cities with the quiet of his home,which he had built near his father's after his marriage to Miss Annie E.
Fairfield in 1860,-Mr. Kittredge composed his famous lyric, "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground." It was in 1863. He had never enlisted in the army because he felt that he could do better service as a singer than as a soldier. Now he was drafted and felt keenly disturbed over the matter. One night, on his return from a visit with the Hutchinsons at High Rock, Lynn, a persistent melody began to run in his head. "Tenting on the old camp ground" came the refrain. Yielding to the impulse, he went into his parlor and took up an old violin, though he seldom played the instrument and never, before nor since, used it in composing. Melody and words came together, and so were set down. That night both song and score were written as they now stand, except for one slight alteration.
Although he had written many songs before this time, Mr. Kittredge was so reticent in regard to this that for some time he did not show it to any one. He went to Concord to answer the draft, and was rejected by the surgeons. Later he went to High Rock, Lynn, and there taught "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground" to Asa Hutchinson, who was the first to learn the now famous melody. In the autumn, while singing at Lowell, he was persuaded by Mr. Hutchinson to bring out his song there. It is related that the song received its first encore from a policeman in the hotel where the company was practising the music, he insisting on hearing it a second time. A little later, Asa Hutchinson, who was then in New York, wrote to Oliver Ditson, the Boston music publisher, that he had a new soldier song which he wished to have published. With Mr. Kittredge's permission he offered him "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground" for fifteen dollars. Even at this modest figure Mr. Ditson declined the offer, on the ground that there was no demand for a new war song. Early in 1864, however, there came a demand for a new patriotic air. Mr. Ditson engaged a Mr. Turner to
write something to meet the requirement; but his song did not prove successful. Later on the publishers bethought themselves of Mr. Kittredge's rejected song, which they finally published that same year. The result was almost unprecedented. Within three months over ten thousand copies were sold, and the song was known everywhere. In it there found. expression the weariness of strife which the long-continued war had engendered. It was really a "peace song," as the author said, and therefore well fitted to catch the ear of a