Contemporary Commentary on Henry Clay Work

  The following was written by George Frederick Root (1820-1895) from his book The Story of a Musical Life, An Autobiography, published in Cincinnati by The John Church Co., in 1891, from Chapter XII, concerning events from 1861-1870, pages 137-138.

  One day early in the war a quiet and rather solemn-look-
ing young man, poorly clad, was sent up to my room from
the store with a song for me to examine. I looked at it and
that at him in my astonishment. It was "Kingdom Coming,"
--elegant in manuscript, full of bright, good sense and com-
ical situations in its "darkey" dialect--the words fitting the
melody almost as aptly and neatly as Gilbert fits Sullivan--
the melody decidedly good and taking, and the whole exactly
suited to the times. "Did you write this--words and music?"
I asked. A gentle "Yes" was the answer. "What is your
business, if I may inquire?" "I am a printer." "Would
you rather write music than set type?" "Yes." "Well, if
this is a specimen of what you can do, I think you may give
up the printing business." He liked that idea very much,
and an arrangement with us was soon made. He needed
some musical help that I could give him, and we needed just
such songs as he could write. The connection, which con-
tinued some years, proved very profitable both to him and
to us. This was Henry C. Work, whose principal songs
while he was with us were "Kingdom Coming," "Babylon
is Fallen," "Wake, Nicodemus," "Ring the Bell, Watch-
man," "Song of a Thousand Years," "Marching Thro'
Georgia" and "Come Home, Father."
  Mr. Work was a slow, pains-taking writer, being from
one to three weeks upon a song; but when the work was
done it was like a piece of fine mosaic, especially in the fit-
ting of words to music. His "Marching Thro' Georgia" is
more played and sung at the present time than any other
song of the war. This is not only on account of the intrinsic
merit of its words and music, but because it is a retrospective.
Other war songs, "The Battle-cry of Freedom" for example,
were for exciting the patriotic feeling on going in to the war
or the battle; "Marching Tho' Georgia" is a glorious re-
membrance on coming triumphantly out, and so has been
more appropriate to soldiers' and other gatherings ever since.

The following is quoted from the 1884 publication of Songs of Henry Clay Work Compiled by Bertram G. Work, nephew of the author, and presented with his compliments.

KNOW the songs of a country, and you
will know its history for the true feeling
of a people speaks through what they
sing. During a period of great stress,
the popular songs of the day invariably
give the most accurate expression of the
popular mind. What the people of the North thought
and felt before and during the Civil War is clearly mir-
rored by the song writers of the period, among whom
the name of Henry Clay Work leads all the rest.
  He is often termed the War Poet. Author of
"Marching Through Georgia," he would, had he written
no other song, have due claim to the title. In addition,
he wrote the "Song of a Thousand Years," and many
another famous war song. The melody and verse of
Henry Clay Work, however, reveal more than the
national history of the Civil War. They picture, they
record the life of America as it was changing from the
last pioneer days into the present great industrial era.

HENRY CLAY WORK was born in Middletown,
Connecticut, October 1, 1832, the son of Alanson
Work. The family, of Scotch descent, came from Auld
Wark Castle. Even in those early days Alan Work was
a noted and fearless anti-slavery advocate. When
Henry Work was about three years old, his father took
the family to Quincy, Illinois, in order to further his
welfare work for the slaves. While in Illinois and Mis-
souri, he helped nearly 4,000 slaves to reach freedom
by means of the "Underground Railroad." Martyr
to the cause he championed, he was imprisoned. For
his self-sacrifice, he was warmly praised in a letter sent
him by a rising young lawyer of the time---Abraham
Lincoln. While in prison, he wrote a book on his anti-
slavery experiences. It had a wide sale.
  On his release, he returned to Middletown, and sub-
sequently to Hartford, where, as one of the thirteen
abolitionist voters in that town, he printed and sold anti-
slavery publications. Alanson Work lived till 1879,
long enough to see his anti-slavery dream realized, as
well as the growing fame of his son.

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Created on 29 January 2000.
Last updated on 30 November 2012.