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Quadrilling. A favourite Song by the Author of “Rejected Addresses”. The Decorations designed and executed by William Hawkes Smith. [Fourth edition?] Birmingham, 1822.

Decorated Songs of the 1820s

July 2020

Lithography was perfected as a printing process in 1799 by its inventor, Adolf Senefelder (1771-1834) of Munich – who two years later travelled to London to take out an English patent, and at the same time established lithographic presses in Berlin, Paris and Vienna.  By now Senefelder had entered into a profitable working partnership with the Offenbach music publisher Johann Anton André (1775-1842), and it seems remarkable that this country should have been more sluggish than the continent – indeed for nearly half a century – in exploiting the new resource for any but pictorial lithographs.

One notable exception however was the Unitarian Birmingham printer, bookseller and stationerWilliam Hawkes Smith (1785-1840), who from 1820 designed, printed and published the handful of ‘decorated songs’ which remain uniquely curious collectors’ items.  Described as ‘favourite and popular Songs copiously illustrated by comic and characteristic Groups’, these offer a running visual accompaniment to their vocal lines and texts and are as witty as they charming.  Smith’s three known examples are shown here (though not in their earliest impressions).  The ‘decorated song’ genre was continued by the London publisher Mayhew & Co., the designer Nathaniel Whittock and various writers and composers.  The Museum will be hoping to acquire more samples!

William Hawkes Smith was born in Birmingham and baptised on 16 August, 1785.  His family were all Uniterians.  He was the second son and third child of Edward Smith and his wife Sarah née Hawkes.  The Smith family had lived in the Birmingham area for centuries and were a large but close group, many of them concerned with improving the lives of the inhabitants of their town.  In 1814 he married Elizabeth Sweet of Hillersdon House, Devon and had a family of at least five children.

He printed, published and illustrated a number of books and articles on architecture, topography, education and the errors of the social system, and wrote long letters to the newspaper.  In 1836, after going into partnership with William & Thomas Radclyffe, Printers and Stationers, he wrote Birmingham and it’s Vicinity, as a Manufacturing and Commercial District which proved popular.  He died on 14 April, 1840, and was buried at the Nonconformist Old Meeting House in Birmingham.  Both he and his father are described in their wills as Notary Public.

The reference to the ‘Author of Rejected Addresses’ above seems here to require a footnote. Rejected Addresses or The New Theatrum Poetarum, first published on 10 October 1812, relates to the opening of the present Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on that date, and to a competition advertised two months beforehand by the theatre’s management.  The previous theatre had burned down in 1809 – its replacement would be the fourth building on the site – and the competition, for a celebratory address to be delivered at the opening, attracted widespread publicity.  From more than one hundred entries received, the prize was won by Lord Byron and delivered on the night by Robert Elliston (who went on to play Hamlet in the ensuing performance).  The anonymous publication Rejected Addresses purports to show some of the ‘also-rans’ but was in fact a clever parody of the style of some eighteen well-known writers of the time, including Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Scott, Thomas Moore and Byron himself, identified only by their initials.  The true authors were the brothers James and Horace Smith, poets, journalists and in Horace’s case also novelist, whose greatest success this was to become.  Published on the very day and with the theatre’s encouragement, it quickly became a best seller, running into at least seven editions by the end of the year and with new editions being published as late as 1890.