Splendid 1920s sea shanties book available from The Gutenberg Project

The download for this gem of an online book is available from The Gutenberg Project.

Thanks to regular contributor Paul Mullings for sending this over. On this occasion I won’t write further as I couldn’t possibly improve on the foreword by prominent Liberal politician and shipping magnate’s son Sir Walter Runciman – what he has to say from his 1920s perspective is loaded with both an inter-war sensibility and great sadness at the end of sail-powered shipping.

‘It is sometimes difficult for old sailors like myself to realize that these fine shanty tunes—so fascinating to the musician, and which no sailor can hear without emotion—died out with the sailing vessel, and now belong to a chapter of maritime history that is definitely closed. They will never more be heard on the face of the waters, but it is well that they should be preserved with reverent care, as befits a legacy from the generation of seamen that came to an end with the stately vessels they manned with such skill and resource.

‘In speech, the old-time ”shellback” was notoriously reticent — almost inarticulate; but in song he found self-expression, and all the romance and poetry of the sea are breathed into his shanties, where simple childlike sentimentality alternates with the Rabelaisian humour of the grown man. Whatever landsmen may think about shanty words — with their cheerful inconsequence, or light-hearted coarseness — there can be no two opinions about the tunes, which, as folk-music, are a national asset.

‘I know, of course, that several shanty collections are in the market, but as a sailor I am bound to say that only one — Capt WBWhall’s ‘Sea Songs, Ships, and Shanties’ — can be regarded as authoritative. Only a portion of Capt Whall’s delightful book is devoted to shanties, of which he prints the melodies only (without accompaniment); and of these he does not profess to give more than those he himself learnt at sea. I am glad, therefore, to welcome Messrs Curwen’s project of a wide and representative collection. Dr Terry’s qualifications as editor are exceptional, since he was reared in an environment of nineteenth-century seamen, and is the only landsman I have met who is able to render shanties as the old seamen did. I am not musician enough to criticize his pianoforte accompaniments, but I can vouch for the authenticity of the melodies as he presents them, untampered with in any way.’

Leave a Reply