Mudcat Café message #4094549 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #169408   Message #4094549
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
23-Feb-21 - 10:28 PM
Thread Name: Review: Davis & Tozer 50 Sailors Songs or Chanties
Subject: RE: Review: Davis & Tozer 50 Sailors Songs or Chanties

That could certainly be a contributing factor—especially if the dates of those writers works' align well with the timing.

The brief (perhaps not wholly satisfying) answer I would offer:
In the 1880s, chanties emerged as a "topic of interest" through numerous writings. There wasn't enough critical mass before then for the topic to really come to broad attention.

As a set up to the 80s, by the 1870s (I'm speaking roughly off the top of my head / memory in terms of the dates), writers included the compelling "hook" that the genre was dying along with traditional sailing-- the threat of "steam power" was in the air. This may have motivated more interest in preservation. (The details of when this tone began to be struck are somewhere in my book.)

I think it's accurate to say that the chanty genre was undergoing shift at this time. While the "sailing traditions are dying" narrative sounds a little alarmist, they were definitely changing. And sailors who experienced the chanty genre before the 1880s do seem to have had different perspectives on it. Winches for halyards and the replacement of the lever windlass with the capstan-windlass were two tech changes that altered the landscape. The repertoire of what is often called "capstan chanties" tends to be later material that less accurately reflects the songs of the earlier era.

It might also be notable that writings by British authors appear much more at this point (as opposed to more plentiful American writing, earlier). Hypothetically, British writers were more compelled by the topic as per their particular sense of national heritage. Or, it might have been that the topic blossomed more fully in a different/new sphere of discourse -- the British, as opposed to the American. I would hazard to say that chanties were more romantically conceived by some British commentators and more "matter of fact" for Americans—relatively speaking.