What a find at Chawton House Library!

There are times when I am in the right place, at the right moment, the stars align and that last piece of a complex puzzle falls into place. That day was today.

Darren Bevin, the wonderful librarian at Chawton House Library kindly agreed to give the Visiting Fellows a tour of the reading rooms and basement stacks. The collection holds a vast number of books, and as we entered the final basement room, he explained that even more books had recently been donated but not as yet catalogued. Encouraging us to take a look, I was leisurely searching through the stacks when my colleague pointed out a book on musical games.

‘That is funny,’ I thought. ‘The only musical game I know of is Anne Young’s musical game, but it can’t be anything to do with that’.

Anne Young’s Musical Game at Decorative and Arts History, Museum of Ireland

For context, I had been looking into Anne Young’s (c.1788-1804?) musical game a couple of years ago and though the game was invented and patented in Edinburgh, only one copy of the physical game was available to see in the Decorative and Arts History building, which is part of the Museum of Ireland and one has since turned up at the V&A in London. A copy of the patent was available at The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, and while this did contain instructions on how to play the 6 different versions of the game it was very dry to read and didn’t provide any insight as to why Anne chose to invent such a tool to teach music theory.


Furthermore, despite being the only woman to receive a patent in 1801 and the first person to receive a patent for an educational game designed for musical ‘amusement and instruction’ she did ‘not merit her own citation in Grove’s 29-volume work, but was mentioned incidentally in the entry about her husband, John Gunn’ (Ghere & Amram: 2007). The patent did refer to an instruction manual and after some digging around I found that Anne had written a music treatise entitled The elements of music and of fingering the harpsichord, to which is added a collection of airs & lessons for the harpsichord or piano-forte published in 1788 but I could not find any other information about the game. And it seemed no one else had either as only one article appeared on the subject by David Ghere and Fred M. B. Amram from 2007. So several questions remained unanswered including ‘Was the game considered a success?’…


That is until now!

Those two books on musical games are none other than Anne’s original instruction manual from 1801 printed to accompany the physical game and a further book entitled An introduction to music in which the elementary parts of the science and the principles of thorough bass and modulation as illustrated by the musical games and apparatus are full and familiarly explained. This book was published in 1803 and not only includes a preface that explains why Anne invented the game, but also information on ‘the science of music’ aka music theory and clear instructions on how to play. Anne even notes that:

When the Games were published in 1801, they were received by some of the most intelligent and judicious masters, with a degree of attention and approbation, which was very gratifying to the inventor, and demands her warmest acknowledgments (Young: 1803: x).

Unfortunately, Anne does not hint at who these eminent masters were, but it seems the game was somewhat successful considering it warranted a further publication 2 years after its invention. Anne does go onto admit that the game was initially published with the purpose of being played by those who already had some musical knowledge, but this publication was specifically designed to enable those who did not have musical knowledge  to play, hence why she included information on ‘several branches of the musical science’ (1803: xii).

New Doc 2017-04-11 (2)_3
Courtesy of Chawton House Library

The emergence of this book also lays to rest a query brought up by Ghere and Amram who questioned if Anne had married her husband, who was also a music educator in 1803 or 1804. This book was published in 1803, where her name was clearly printed as ‘Anne Gunn, (late Young)’. With this new information, it shouldn’t be too hard to track down the month in which it was published and find out a more exact marriage date for this power couple of the early 19th-century musical-world.

New Doc 2017-04-11 (3)_5
Courtesy of Chawton House Library

Much more work will need to be carried out on these two books to find out if there are changes or discrepancies between the methods of play or language used in describing the games as well as figuring out how to play the games themselves. However, Chawton House Library has once again highlighted the importance of a long forgotten woman, influential in her day.


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