Sunday, October 12, 2014

James Oswald's Caledonian Pocket Companion (1745-1769) - What Is Available Online?

One of the most important and influential Scottish tune collections of the 18th century was James Oswald's Caledonian Pocket Companion, published in 12 volumes since circa 1745. Oswald (1710 - 1769), the "most prolific and successful composer of 18th-century Scotland", but also a publisher, music teacher, arranger, editor, cellist and not at least a very astute businessman, worked at first in Dunfermline and Edinburgh and then moved to London in 1741. Six years later he set up his own music shop and publishing house and in 1761 he even became chamber composer to King George III. (quote from Johnson/Melvill, James Oswald, in: New Grove, 2nd ed., Vol. 18, pp. 790-1, see also Kidson, British Music Publishers, pp. 84-87).

The Caledonian Pocket Companion surely was the most popular of Oswald's numerous publications. These were handy and relatively inexpensive booklets with only the melody line, "noteworthy for [their] somewhat spartan appearance [...], to be available to the average punter rather than the gentleman amateur [...] an exercise in musical democracy" (Purser 1997, p. 327). In fact even the less affluent music fans could afford a tune collection like this one. The real problem with this work is that Oswald never gave the sources of the tunes. So in many cases we don't know if he had written them himself, if he had collected them somewhere or borrowed from another publication. 

But nonetheless this was a historically important and influential repository of tunes known at that time. It was regularly reprinted and remained in use even long after Oswald's death. Robert Burns owned a copy (see Purser 1997, p. 327) and editors of subsequent collections of Scottish songs used it as a source, for example James Johnson, Joseph Ritson and James Hogg (see McAulay, pp. 57, 68, 162). I have encountered Oswald's collection nearly every time I set out to research the history of particular tunes. In case of "Farewell to Tarwathie" I found altogether five different tune variants (see Ch. 1 of this work, at Most recently I was surprised to find out that he was also responsible for the earliest documented precursor of the tune used by Thomas Moore for "'Tis The last Rose of Summer" ("St. Martin's Church Yard", in Vol. 3, p. 25, according to SITM 1175, p. 223). 

Thanks to the digitization efforts of the National Library of Scotland and the University of Western Ontario this collection can easily be accessed at the Internet Archive. But there are different editions and composite volumes available and perhaps it is helpful to point out the most usable digitized versions. 

Most important is a book including what looks like the original versions of the first six volumes. The first two had been published not by Oswald himself but - before he started his own business - by John Simpson: 
Then there are some composite volumes including reprints of Vol. 1 & 2 published by Oswald himself. One is not particularly useful because it consists only of a couple of pages from different booklets: 
Much more helpful is an edition that includes not only the first six booklets - with an alphabetical index - but also Vols. 7 & 8: 
A composite volume of different editions of the first 8 volumes is unfortunately a little bit incomplete. Some pages of Vols. 2 & 4 are missing: 
We now have the first 8 Vols. of this collection. But for the remaining four one must resort to later new editions. One was by publishers Straight & Skillern but the copy available here is incomplete and includes only Vols. 8, 11, 12 
Later music publisher Robert Bremner brought out a new edition in two volumes, the first including the original booklets 1-6 and the second one with original numbers 7 - 12, but with new continuous pagination. The latter has also been digitized and can be found here: 
In fact all individual volumes of the Caledonian Pocket Companion are now available, the original editions of the first 8 and the last four as part of Bremner's later edition. 

  • David Johnson & Heather Melvill, James Oswald, in: The New Grove, 2nd ed., London 2001, Vol. 18, pp. 790-1 (the best short resumé of Oswald's life and work)
  • Frank Kidson, British Music Publishers, Printers And Engravers, London, Provincial, Scottish and Irish. From Queen Elizabeth's Reign to George The Fourth's, London 1900 (available at The Internet Archive)
  • Karen E. McAulay, Our Ancient National Airs. Scottish Song Collecting c. 1760 - 1888, PH. D. thesis, University of Glasgow, 2009 (online available at; now also published by Ashgate with the title: Our Ancient National Airs: Scottish Song Collecting from the Enlightenment to the Romantic Era, Farnham 2013, see Google Books)
  • John Purser, 'The Wee Apollo': Burns and Oswald, in: Kenneth Simpson, Love and Liberty. Robert Burns: A Bicentenary Celebration, East Linton 1997, pp. 326-333
  • SITM = Aloys Fleischmann (ed.), Sources Of Irish Traditional Music, C. 1600 - 1855, 2 Vols., New York & London 1998

  • The books digitized by the NLS are also available on their own site and can be used there. They are part of the Glen and Inglis Collections of Printed Music.
  • There is also a facsimile edition of Caledonian Pocket Companion on 2 CD Roms, published in 2006 & 2007 by Nick Parkes, with introduction and notes by John Purser (see the review of Vol. 1 at; the CDs are still available on John Purser's website). I haven't seen this one yet but it looks very promising and I have just ordered a copy.

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