Among the many cultural innovations of the Victorian age, printed sheet music was one of the most widespread. The upright piano made it possible for most middle-class families to have musical entertainment in their own parlors. Printed music had existed since the dawn of the press in the fifteenth century, but lithography and mechanized production made sheet music available to the masses.
"The Boz Quadrilles"
At the same time, while copyright protected an author's writing, there was no concept of licensing like we have today. Beloved characters from the novels of Charles Dickens lived on in songs inspired by his works, yet not necessarily authored - or authorized - by his pen. Much like today when we buy the soundtrack to a favorite movie, Victorian readers would sing songs that continued their literary experiences and contributed to their collective enjoyment of popular literature.
"Poor Little Nell"
See these items and other materials from the Dartmouth College Library's collections in the exhibit "Dickens at 200: Sketches, Curiosities, Expectations," which celebrates the 200th anniversary of Dickens's birth. The exhibit was curated by Laura Braunstein and will be on view in Berry Main Street until April 27, 2012. For more on the worldwide celebration of the Dickens Bicentennial, see http://www.dickens2012.org/