In historical musicological research, sometimes apparently inconsequential names assume disproportionate importance. This was the fate of Caleb Concord this week. Apparently a contributor to the Aberdeen Censor – a journal which only lasted 13 months from January 1824 to January 1825, Dominie (schoolmaster) Concord submitted his autobiography in four lengthy letters, and in one of them, he opined that the Marischal students should be more concerned about what had happened to the Stationers’ Hall music.
This raises more questions than answers. I went to read the journal at the National Library of Scotland. Mr Concord appears several times in the journal, including a couple of letters to the editor, quite apart from his autobiographical contributions. His wives’ names, and their characterisation, all suggest the pieces are tongue in cheek and that he might be a real person contributing a rather fictional account under a pseudonym. His name also appears in another contemporary Aberdonian book by someone else delighting in not one but two pseudonyms (a very common enjoyment in the 1820s). Concord certainly doesn’t appear in genealogical or newspaper sources online. The pseudonym would be appropriate for someone who claimed to be a good singer and piper, teacher not only in school but also of songs and psalmody on Thursday nights!, and he may also have been a kirk session clerk.
So, who was he? Possibly a brother of the publisher, bookseller Lewis Smith? There was indeed the schoolmaster of Footdee and session clerk of St Nicholas Parish, one William Smith, in the 1824 Aberdeen post office directory. Although this could be a complete red herring!
At this point, we do have to stop and ask whether his identity actually matters one iota!
The most important thing about “Caleb Concord” is his observation about the Marischal students, and it’s intriguing because at that time, the Marischal students had virtually no access to the library of King’s College Aberdeen – and it was King’s College that received the Stationers’ Hall legal deposit materials. Last year, Iain Beavan wrote a fascinating article, ‘Marischal College Library, Aberdeen, in the Nineteenth Century: an Overview’, in Library and Information History 31:4 (258-279). It is clear that neither library was very accessible to students, and the animosity between the two colleges extended for many decades on account of King’s College’s determination to keep hold of the legal deposit books. Beavan makes no mention of the music, though!
What we do know, from Barry Cooper and Richard Turbet’s bibliographical work on the Aberdeen early music holdings, is that not much survives from before 1801, and some 4000 items survive from after this. Why “Caleb Concord” should mention music in particular, unless he himself is a musician and can’t get his hands on what he knows is there, is a mystery. Certainly, the debate was raging about legal deposit holdings in Aberdeen, and it is not surprising that the public debate should be referred to in a local journal.
Remember his name, though. Who knows? We might yet unearth a positive identification, though not much more time will be spent on the conundrum for now!