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OUR FAMILIAR SONGS
" What is it, Sir George? said I. " Are they hissing met"
" Hissing!" he replied; " no, it's a tremendous encore."
" And it was an encore, indeed, such as I had never received before, and have never witnessed since. After that you may be sure I fired away at the ' Old English Gentleman' wherever I went. Next morning, my friend Mori asked me all about this song, as he was anxious to publish it. I told him all I knew, where I first heard it, shewed him the manuscript copy sent to me by Mr. Crewe, and that I understood from that gentleman it was a very old song, and the property of any one who liked to take it up. In less than a week it appeared with my name on the title-page, and a conspicuous line saying no copy was correct or genuine but that published by Mori and signed by me. The song began to sell immensely, and for a few days promised an abundant harvest; when lo ! out came an edition by Mr. Purday, of Holborn, and simultaneous with that, half-a-dozen other music shops issued their version; for it spread rapidly that I had said it was an old song and the property of any one. Mr. Purday fired the first shot by issuing a notice to all transgressors that the song wa3 his property and his alone, and demanding the withdrawal of all other editions, and an account of all the copies that had been sold. A most unenviable mark I stood in the midst of all this contention. I could do no more than repeat my information. Mr. Purday publicly questioned my veracity; and Mr. Mori threatened me with all sorts of vengeance for having deceived him; until, in the end, all set Mr. Purday at defiance, and that gentleman having nothing left but to bring the case before a jury, an action was consequently commenced and fixed to take place, with as little delay as possible, in Westminster Hall. Mr. Purday everywhere asserted he had purchased the copyright, which was not then credited; for though he was not a very young-looking gentleman, we were quite sure he did not live during the reign of Elizabeth, at about which period we knew the words were written. So all remained a mystery till the trial, which was certainly a very droll one, and caused more laughter than is usually heard in courts of law.
"All the editions were now withdrawn, with the exception of that claimed by Mr. Purday, and, by the day fixed for the trial, every species of musical authority had been summoned, as it became evident to the legal advisers that the question must turn upon the originality of the melody. It would not be sufficient for even the author to make oath that it was his composition, if it was like something else, for people generally thought the air was familiar. All speculation at length ceased, and the musical world stood breathless, waiting the issue of this interesting inquiry. When the trial came on, the court was crowded with persons connected with such matters.
"After several eminent musicians had been called, but had failed to throw any fight on the question, Mr. Tom Cooke was called. Up jumped Mr. Tom into the witness-box, as light as a fairy. Every one seemed under the impression that this witness would turn the scale, though the barristers were much disposed to think, with Dr. Johnson, that' fiddlers have have no brains.' ■
Counsel.—Your name is Thomas Cooke, I believe? Tom.— So I've alwavs been led to believe. Counsel.—And a professor of music? Tom.—A professor of the divine art. Counsel—We'll put the divinity aside, for the present, Mr. Cooke. Tom (sotto voce J.— Don't like music. Counsel.—Do you know a song called "The old English gentleman?" Tow.—No! I do not; I've heard it. Counsel.—Don't know it, but has heard it, my Lud. I suppose, sir, if you were asked, you could sing it ? Tom.—I'm not quite sure I could; I've a bad memory, unless I receive a refresher. A loud laugh went through the court.
Usher. Si------lence ! Counsel.—I see you're inclined to be very witty, Mr. Cooke. Tom.
—Upon my honor, I'm not, I'm only telling the truth. (Another general laugh). Usher.
Si------lence! Counsel.—Now, Mr. Cooke, attend particularly to this question. Do you or
do you not believe that the melody in dispute is an ancient melody, or a modern one?