Stephen Collins Foster Biography - online book

A Biography Of America's Folk-Song Composer By Harold Vincent Milligan

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68               STEPHEN COLLINS FOSTER
Then away with earth's cares and its woe, With your joys and your sorrows below, For no more tears from your eyes will be shed, When you've gone where the sanctified go!
Of the five new songs of this year, the two which gained the greatest popularity were sung by the Christy Minstrels, "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Old Dog Tray." The latter song achieved a tremendous vogue immediately, which endured until long after the Civil War, but it does not exhibit the signs of permanence of "My Old Kentucky Home" and "The Old Folks at Home." It is said that 125,000 copies of "Old Dog Tray" were sold within eighteen months of publication, but the actual figures are not available. Of the origin of this song, Morrison Foster says:
An old friend of ours, Col. Matthew Stewart, gave Stephen a hand­some setter dog, which for a long time was his constant companion. We lived upon the East Common of Alleghany, a wide open space, now improved into a beautiful park. Stephen often watched this dog with much pleasure, playing with the children on the Common. When he wrote of "Old Dog Tray," he put into verse and song the sentiments elicited by remembrances of this faithful dog.
He was easily disturbed from sleep at night and used every pre­caution to be as quiet as possible. A strange dog got into one of the back buildings one night and howled at intervals. Stephen finally could endure it no longer, and sallying forth partly dressed with a poker in his hand, pounded the poor dog away from the neigh­borhood. The family had a good laugh at the author of "Old Dog Tray" the next day.
There'is a tradition that "My Old Kentucky Home" was written at the home of a relative of the Foster fam­ily, Judge John Rowan of Bardstown, Kentucky, who was also U. S. Senator. This story cannot be verified. It was certainly not necessary for Stephen Foster to be actually in Kentucky at the time, any more than it was necessary for him to be familiar with Florida in mention­ing the Swanee River. The important thing is that the song rings true and expresses an emotion deep-rooted in the human soul. Its only rival in the affectionate esteem of the multitudes is "The Old Folks at Home," which it closely resembles in spirit. Both songs sing of loneliness







E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III