"Trollopiana"—David Claypoole Johnston Counters Frances Trollope's Views on American Music

October 1, 1981

The publication of Frances Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans (London, 1832) provoked a storm of angry reactions in the United States. Journalists, artists, and popular-music composers alike denounced her criticisms of American life and attempted, whenever possible, to undermine her credibility. Perhaps one of the sharpest rebuttals, one that exploited certain prejudices of the time, was David Claypoole Johnston's "Trollopiana," a group of 21 vignettes caricaturing Mrs. Trollope's remarks on a variety of subjects. "TROLLOP AT HOME IN DE FUST COLOR'D CIRCLES," Number 15 in this series (Fig. 1), directly addressed her attitude toward American music and succeeded in capturing a view of black musicians as seen by whites both at home and abroad.


Fig. 1. David Claypoole Johnston. No. 15 from "Trollopiana," Scraps IV (1833).

Courtesy of American Antiquarian Society


The present article will consider this vignette in light of its position within Johnston's work, its relationship to Mrs. Trollope's account of music in America, and its importance as a document for the social history of early nineteenth-century American music.

David Claypoole Johnston (1798-1865) frequently depicted musicians and musical activities in his paintings, prints, and sheet music covers. As a young man in Philadelphia, prior to his move to Boston in 1825, he befriended Anton Philipp Heinrich, who was to become significant in the musical aspect of Johnston's career. The two probably first met around 1821 while both were employed—Johnston as an actor and Heinrich as a composer—at the Walnut Street Theater. Later Johnston illustrated several covers of sheet music by Heinrich, including "The Log House" (1826), written for Heinrich's Boston farewell concert prior to leaving for England (Fig. 2) and "Il trillo di Yankee Doodle" (1831), composed for one of Paganini's concert tours of Great Britain.1


Fig. 2. David Claypoole Johnston. Cover for Anton Philipp Heinrich's "The Log House" (Boston, 1826).

Courtesy of American Antiquarian Society


Johnston decorated numerous covers of music by other composers as well.2 Musical subjects were also included among his water colors (e.g., The Muses, 1828; Taproom Scene, 1840s) and his book illustrations (e.g., two of the eight plates from "Outlines Illustrative of the Journal of F****** [Frances] A*** [Anne] K***** [Kemble]," 1835).3

The majority of Johnston's works, both musical and nonmusical, was satirical in character, designed to poke fun at contemporary events, and more generally, at the absurdities of life. In line with this purpose, Johnston began in 1828 to produce periodically a series of etchings titled Scraps; ten volumes appeared before 1849. Each issue was similar in format, consisting of four oblong plates with nine to twelve separate images. These works with their timely sarcasm were viewed with glee by Johnston's public. In the New York Transcript for January 1835 an anonymous review of Volume 6 of Scraps advised its purchase for those who were "fond of laughing and being instructed at the same time."4 One admirer of Johnston's, a Mr. F.S. Osgood, remarked in an undated letter to the artist that the Scraps he had received had caused him "to laugh so heartily and so long that I have just recovered steadiness of hand sufficient to write you a note of thanks."5

"Trollopiana," as Volume 4 of Scraps, was received with much the same enthusiasm. Johnston acknowledged its popularity in a letter to Mrs. Trollope printed in Volume 5 (1834):

In my last number of Scraps I have humbly attempted to illustrate a few of the many deeply-interesting scenes so vividly described in your ladyship's liberal, unprejudiced and deservedly popular history of the Domestic Manners of the Americans. To these sketches, imperfect as they are, I consider myself mainly indebted for the unprecedented success of the work.6

Domestic Manners of the Americans was widely read in both England and the United States. Within a year after it first appeared in 1832 the book went through four editions, was translated into French and Spanish, and appeared in a pirated edition in New York.7 The British, eager for any negative word about the American democratic experiment, hungrily consumed Mrs. Trollope's criticisms, while the Americans, angered by her account, denounced her accusations.8

Johnston, as one of Mrs. Trollope's critics, carefully selected noteworthy portions of her press and deliberately distorted her meaning through the use of puns. His vitriolic illustrative wit turned the tables on her, making Mrs. Trollope—rather than the Americans—the butt of numerous jokes.9 For example, she had discussed at great length and with even greater superciliousness the hogs that roamed the streets of Cincinnati eating the garbage. Illustration Number 5 from "Trollopiana," which includes a quotation of this passage, is captioned "THE TROLLOPS GOING THE OLE OG IN CINCINNATI:" in it, Mrs. Trollope is shown clumsily stumbling through a street lined with pigs. Number 8 features a clever pun: Mrs. Trollope's ecstatic description of the beauty of rowing on the Ohio River was inverted by Johnston into a depiction of Mrs. Trollope involved in a chaotic fight, or "row," on a barge in the Ohio.

Johnston ran two unifying threads through his series: he consistently misnamed the British authoress as "trollop," and he included quotations from Jonathan Swift to emphasize his quips. In case any of his public might not get the point of his altered spelling of Mrs. Trollope's name, Johnston placed an authoritative definition beneath his first caricature: "Trollop[:] A loose, slatternly woman—Johnson."10 As the other motif in the series Johnston inscribed the lower right-hand corner of each vignette with: "It requires the pen of a Swift &c—Trollop." Mrs. Trollope had used that phrase herself in an effort to emphasize the horrors of her trip up the Mississippi; Johnston put it to the same purpose, implying that only Swift's biting language could express the horrors of Mrs. Trollope's claims. Further, Johnston added an appropriate quotation from Swift beneath each vignette.

What was it about Mrs. Trollope's book that so irritated her American contemporaries and, more importantly for us, what did she say about American music to incite Johnston's response? In answer to the first question, her account of life in America, which was full of valuable detail about the manners and customs she observed, was couched in a distinctly derogatory tone. One of her concluding statements summarizes her view: "I do not like them [the Americans]. I do not like their principles, I do not like their manners, I do not like their opinions."11 Indeed, much about the United States was distasteful to her. During her American trip, which lasted from 1827 to 1831, she began with a visit to frontier areas in Tennessee and Ohio, where she often found conditions far too rustic for her taste. Even in the large Eastern cities she felt the life style lacked the sophistication of her beloved England. Repeatedly she chastised the Americans for being dull, for enjoying few "amusements" as she termed them, and for indulging in disgusting habits such as tobacco chewing and spitting.12

Mrs. Trollope's views on music came into play in her discussion of American cultural life. Although she possessed no professional credentials as a musician, she was a typically educated, well-bred lady of her time who saw music as one of life's finer pleasures, as an important attribute to high society. Therefore in assessing the American musical panorama she principally evaluated music on the basis of its success in the drawing room. When, as was often the case, American parlors did not fare well by her pen, neither did music. She repeatedly lamented the infrequency of musical evenings, and when they did occur, decried their poor quality.13 In evaluating the music heard at camp meetings and revival worship she was also largely critical, having little sympathy for the religious fervor of the Americans or for the music that accompanied it.14 Her remarks were far more compassionate, however, in one category of her musical observations: music made by blacks.15 As an ardent social liberal she was strongly opposed to slavery and had come to the United States intending to participate in a Utopian community devoted to educating blacks.16 Throughout her book she consistently voiced concern for slaves and lashed out in no uncertain terms at the contradiction—in practice—of the American concept of democracy.

For his single caricature on Mrs. Trollope's attitudes toward American music, Johnston selected a passage from her book with a dual meaning, one in which she criticized the Americans for their boring social gatherings at the same time that she extolled the blacks for the high quality of their music-making.

Their [referring to the people of Cincinnati] large evening parties are supremely dull; the men sometimes play cards by themselves, but if a lady plays, it must not be for money; no écarté [a game of cards], no chess; very little music, and that little lamentably bad. Among the blacks I heard some good voices, singing in tune; but I scarcely ever heard a white American, male or female, go through an air without being out of tune before the end of it; nor did I ever meet any trace of science in the singing I heard in society.17

In Number 15 from "Trollopiana," "TROLLOP AT HOME IN DE FUST COLOR'D CIRCLES," based on this excerpt, Johnston satirized Mrs. Trollope's sympathetic attitude toward American slaves by showing her amidst a group a blacks, stomping her foot in time to the music. Behind her, two women and a man appear to sing the refrain to the verse called out by the banjo player on the right. The latter, together with the child playing in the right foreground, provides the instrumental accompaniment to the singing. Although neither instrument is depicted in any detail, the child's playing position suggests that he is performing on a jaw's harp; his left hand holds the instrument against his teeth while his right hand plucks the lamella. Two of the other blacks in the caricature are waiting on Mrs. Trollope; their inclusion may have been an attempt to undermine the sincerity of Mrs. Trollope's antislavery stance, the implication being that although she found slavery ideologically abhorrent, in practice she was not above allowing herself to be served. The man in the left background, lost in his bottle, seems to be completely oblivious to the scene. Meanwhile the child on the left comments, ". . . missey Trollop neber hear any music like dat 'mong de white trash." Below the caricature the quotation from Swift—describing "greedy ears" hearing an "unknown music all around"—may have been intended to suggest a certain naiveté in Mrs. Trollope's observations about blacks. Being British, she had had no previous opportunity to come in contact with American slaves.

It is interesting that Johnston, as early as 1831, chose this particular aspect of Mrs. Trollope's book for response and that his sole caricature of blacks among the series "Trollopiana" involved a musical theme. The depiction of black musicians was not new to Johnston, however. For example his cover for Heinrich's "The Log House" (Fig. 2) had featured a black on the right holding a banjo, with a white violinist (Heinrich) seated on the left. Both the black man and his banjo in "The Log House" closely resemble the corresponding figures in "Trollopiana." Their similarity does not imply that Johnston had a particular man who served as a model, rather that he was presenting a stylized image. David Tatham, the principal Johnston scholar, has described the American black as being one of the most common subjects for caricature on music title pages of the early nineteenth century; he feels that most of these figures were derived from the costume, action, and make-up of the white actors of the time who impersonated blacks.18

Black musicians, beyond their frequent representation on music title pages, were among the favored pictorial subjects in pre-Civil War America in general. Genre painters working outside the realm of caricature, such as William Sidney Mount (1807-1868), James Goodwyn Clonney (1812-1867), John Lewis Krimmel (1789-1821), and Christian Mayr (circa 1805-1851), often included black fiddlers and banjo players in their scenes of American life. Although their aesthetic purposes differed from Johnston's, they frequently depicted blacks in many of the same ways—showing them as stage types derived from the minstrel show. This is not to say that their paintings were not accurate or true to life, rather that their concept of black musicians was, to a degree, narrowly stereotyped.19

David Claypoole Johnston's musical vignette from "Trollopiana" succeeds in projecting a number of meanings. First we see reflected Mrs. Trollope's attitude toward music in the United States. Both her disdain for American parlor music and her admiration of American blacks are conveyed, while at the same time her idealism regarding the latter is implied. Second, the manner in which Johnston illustrated the black musicians referred to by Mrs. Trollope is revealing as well. Rather than presenting an actual black man playing a carefully rendered banjo, he based his image on a minstrel-show figure; his depiction, as opposed to being realistic, is conventionalized. Furthermore the choices that Johnston made in selecting which of Mrs. Trollope's ideas to caricature defined to a certain extent the issues toward which Americans were sensitive and revealed the aspects of her critique that most sharply hit a nerve. Through Johnston's work we have a view not only of how Americans reacted to Mrs. Trollope, but how they saw themselves and their own musical life. "Trollopiana" therefore is a valuable document for the social history of early nineteenth-century America and its music.

1Paganini, to whom Heinrich sent a copy of the music, never performed the piece. Johnston's cover shows a disastrous evening at Drury Lane, when Heinrich's Guarneri violin was stepped on by a chorister during the performance of an oratorio. This music cover, together with that for "The Log House," is discussed by David Tatham in The Lure of the Striped Pig; The Illustration of Popular Music in America, 1820-1870 (Barre, Mass.: Imprint Society, 1973), pp. 38 and 42.

2Included among Johnston's music covers are those for the "Cornerstone March" (1832) and "Old Dan Emmit's Original Banjo Melodies" (1843). A partial inventory of Johnston's works—including sheet music covers—is provided in Malcolm Johnson, David Claypool Johnston, 1798-1865 (An Exhibition jointly held by the American Antiquarian Society, Boston College, The Boston Public Library, and the Worcester Art Museum, March, 1970).

3The latter was published in pamphlet form (Boston, 1835). The etchings were designed to be snipped out and pasted into the British actress's writings about her American travels. A copy is housed at the American Antiquarian Society. For an itemization of Johnston's other book illustrations see David Tatham, A Note about David Claypoole Johnston with a Checklist of his Book Illustrations (Syracuse: Syracuse University, 1970).

4Anonymous, New York Transcript (January 6, 1835); quoted in Malcolm Johnson, David Claypool Johnston, p. 8.

5F.S. Osgood, letter to David C. Johnston, undated [most likely 1830s], the American Antiquarian Society.

6David C. Johnston, Scraps V (1834).

7James B. Mooney, Introduction to Frances Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans (Barre, Mass.: Imprint Society, 1969), p. xiii.

8For American criticisms of Domestic Manners see Frederick John Bethke, Three Victorian Travel Writers; An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism on Mrs. Frances Milton Trollope, Samuel Butler, and Robert Louis Stevenson (Boston: G.K. Hall and Co., 1977).

9Johnston arranged "Trollopiana" with the vignettes on the recto of the right hand page facing the relevant quotation from Domestic Manners on the verso of the left hand page. Each citation was documented with the proper chapter and page numbers from the book.

10In Dr. Johnson's dictionary his definition concluded with, "A low word, I know not whence derived." Samuel Johnson, "Trollop," in A Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (London: W. Strahan for J. and P. Knapton, 1755-56), Vol. II.

11All page references to Domestic Manners of the Americans are based on the edition with an introduction by Donald Smalley (New York: Knopf, 1949). This quotation is found on p. 404.

12One of her more amusing anecdotes on the latter point concerns a performance of Rossini's La Cenerentola that she viewed in New York City: "Another night we saw Cinderella there; Mrs. Austin was the prima donna, and much admired. The piece was extremely well got up, and on this occasion we saw the Park Theatre to advantage, for it was filled with well-dressed company; but still we saw many 'yet unrazored lips' polluted with the grim tinge of the hateful tobacco, and heard, without ceasing, the spitting, which of course is its consequence. If their theatre had the orchestra of the Feydeau, and a choir of angels to boot, I could find but little pleasure, so long as they were followed by this running accompaniment of thorough base." Ibid., p. 340.

13Specific material on music as heard in American drawing rooms can be found on the following pages of Domestic Manners: 58, 74, 209, 239, 299, 339, et al. For an analysis of Mrs. Trollope's views on American music and its role within society see my article, "Mrs. Trollope and the Musical 'Manners' of the Americans," presently in typescript.

14See Domestic Manners, pp. 77, 171-72.

15Ibid., pp. 7, 299.

16Mrs. Trollope came to the United States to participate in Frances Wright's colony at Nashoba, Tennessee, where former slaves were being educated. The venture was extremely disillusioning to her.

17See Domestic Manners, p. 299.

18Tatham, The Lure of the Striped Pig, p. 21.

19Hermann Warner Williams, Jr., in Mirror to the American Past; Survey of American Genre Painting, 1750-1900 (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1973), touches briefly on this within a discussion of the work of Christian Mayr: "One has only to recall Krimmel's or even Mount's early fiddlers to realize that the conventional minstrel-show image of the Negro was already established." (p. 78)

18386 Last modified on October 25, 2018