Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Howes

 

If you're going to spend significant time in the nineteenth century ballroom, you should know the difference between these two men.

Elias Howe Jr. was born in Framingham, Mass. in 1820.
Elias Howe Jr. was born in Spencer, Mass. in 1819.

One ran a music publishing business, compiled dance manuals, sold drums during the Civil War and collected musical instruments. The other invented the sewing machine.

Dance manual Howe was a publisher, not a dance teacher, he simply compiled directions for dances. His dance manuals are extensive, and contains some gems that didn't get published anywhere else. His music volumes have been invaluable in our endeavor of recreating the dances.


Here are short bios of the two men:

SEWING MACHINE HOWE (photo on right)

Elias (2), second son of Elias (1) and Polly (Bemis) Howe, was born in Spencer, July 9, 1819, died at Brooklyn, New York, October 3, 1867 at forty-eight years of age.

He worked with his brother in sticking wire teeth into strips of leather for cards, used in the manufacture of cotton. At eleven he went out to live with a farmer of the neighborhood and after an experience there of one year he returned to his father's mill. In 1835 he went to Lowell, Massachusetts, and obtained a learner's place in a manufactory of cotton machinery, earning about fifty cents a day. 

In 1837, the panic year, he was adrift again for work and showed up at Cambridge where he secured a position in a machine shop. In a few months he is in Boston in another machine shop. Two men came into the shop one day and brought a knitting machine which they were striving to perfect and sought the proprietor's aid whose name was Davis. "Why don't you make a sewing machine asked Davis? It can't be done said the caller." "O yes it can," insisted Davis. Elias Howe stood by and heard the above conversation and it was the germ of the idea from which he developed a sewing machine, abolished "The song of the shirt." and made the name of Howe famous the world over. He began to study the idea at once. Never was necessity more truly the mother of invention than in his case. He had wife and children three to feed and cloth on the pitiable salary of nine dollars per week. It was to provide for this little family he worked in after hours and in moments snatched from sleep and needed rest.

One day in 1844 the thought came upon him with the suddenness of a pistol shot; it was necessary that the machine should imitate naturally the action of the hand in sewing. This was the acme of the crisis. The idea of using two threads and forming a stitch by the aid of a shuttle and a curved needle, with an eye near the point soon occurred to him. The tailors in Boston were opposed to the device as likely to hurt their business and he was nearly mobbed at times. He secured letters patents. The income from the invention was practically nothing and he engaged himself as a railroad engineer to support his family. 

In 1847 he sailed in the steerage for London upon an engagement with a machinist over there to construct a machine to sew corsets. This venture proved abortive and he was wretchedly poor. He was obliged to pawn his first sewing machine to secure passage home. Arrived in New York he had a half crown as his sole possession. By this time the machine was becoming utilized in the United States and his long fight with the infringers began. Litigation ensued, followed by temporary defeats and vexatious delays; but Elias won in the end. The court held: "there is no evidence in this case that leaves a shadow of doubt, that all the benefit conferred upon the public by the introduction of a sewing machine, the public are indebted to Mr. Howe." 

From the day of that decision Mr. Howe's prospects began to brighten and his income was two hundred thousand dollars per annum. He formed a company for the making of his machines at Bridgeport, Connecticut, and erected an immense plant there. 

At the outbreak of the civil war he enlisted as a soldier and fought in the ranks for he came of fighting stock. On one occasion he advanced the pay for the whole regiment when the pay master was short of funds. He was always making contributions to the army. (William Richard Cutter, William Frederick Adams Genealogical and personal memoirs relating to the families of the state of Massachusetts, Volume 1, Lewis historical publishing company, 1910. p. 196-197.)


DANCE MANUAL HOWE (photo on left)


Elias Howe, Esq., son of Elias and Hannah (Perry) Howe of South Framingham, Mass., was born in that town August 9, 1820, and died at his residence in Watertown, Mass., Saturday, July 6, 1895. ae. 75. He was a descendant of John1 Howe, an early settler at Sudbury, Mass., through Samuel*, Samuel,0 Samuel,4 Hezekiah,4 Perley,* and Elias,7 his father above named.

When a young man he exhibited considerable talent for music, and copied into a blank book every tune he heard played. In this way he gathered a large collection of tunes, which was in great demand by musicians. 

In 1840, when 19 years old and working on a farm, it occurred to him to get his book published. It was printed for him by Wright & Kidder, music publishers, Boston, under the title of "The Musician's Companion." It was afterwards extended to three volumes, and ran through many editions. From this beginning, it is said, sprang the large trade in music books at a popular price in the United States.

Mr. Howe, about 1840, opened a store in Boston and became a dealer in music and musical instruments. "He wrote and published all kinds of instrumental instruction books, and went from city to city selling them. In this work he traveled all over the United States and became one of the best known music publishers in the United States."


About 1850 he sold out his business and bought an estate in South Framingham, where he resided, acting as manager of an Ice Company for several years. About the year 1861, he returned to Boston and engaged in his former business. During the early years of the war he sold drums and fifes to many of the Massachusetts regiments, as well as to those in the western States. He also published music adapted for the drum and life and for military bands. He made many trips to Europe for the purchase of old and valuable violins, in the value of which he was skilled. When he died, he had, it has been said, one of the largest collections in the world.
 
According to his own statement, made in 1888, he had then compiled and published about two hundred musical works, some of which appeared under fictitious names. Among his pseudonyms were "Gumbo Chaff," under which name he issued the "Ethiopian Glee Book" in four numbers, afterwards bound together, and "Patrick O'Flanigan," under which he published "Songs of Ireland." Another pseudonym was "Mary O'Neill."


Mr. Howe was an invalid for several years previous to his death. He was stricken with paralysis in 1887, and had a second attack in 1891, when he retired from business, and was most of the time confined to his home. In 1847 he was married to Caroline Hills of Union, Me., who died in September, 1894. He leaves three children. (Henry Fitz-Gilbert Waters, New England Historic Genealogical Society, The New England historical and genealogical register, Volume 49, The Society, 1895.  p. 480.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Playing to the Audience


As we were preparing for a performance, a small question came up about how to do a particular turn. One of the dancers commented that in modern contradancing one decides little things by how good the move feels rather than how good the move looks from the outside. I find this a very interesting concept.

It is clear that mid-19c contradances are different from modern contradances. Completely leaving aside the ways that dance clothes have changed and the way music has changed, you can see from the original dance manuals that nineteenth century dances were constructed differently. Usually there are active and inactive couples. Sometimes the inactive couples help the active couples, sometimes they just stand there. In contrast, modern contradancing delights in keeping everyone, active and "inactive", moving as much as possible. All that movement can create a bubble effect, where the most vivid thing you are aware of is your own movement and your own sensations. In contrast, all that standing around in nineteenth century contradances can create an audience/performer effect, where you watch the dancers around you, and are aware that when you are dancing others are watching you.

What do you do when you pop out the end of a contradance and have no new couple to dance with? Many modern contradancers will keep dancing, throwing together moves that they can perform with just their partner, making sure that they end in the proper place at the proper time to continue the dance with the next couple that comes available.

At recreations of nineteenth century balls, however, I encourage dancers in this situation to relax, take a breath, play audience to the other dancers and then be ready to jump back into the dance when a new couple comes available.

From reading the dance manuals and etiquette books, I get the sense that people thought it was polite to watch and appreciate others, and likewise polite to think about how your behaviour could give pleasure to those who happened to be watching you.