The Dutchman’s Leetle Dog: A Surprising Tale

  • by Gilly Margrave, Music and Performing Arts, Leeds Central Library

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When I was very small, small enough for grown-ups to be able to distract me by singing funny little songs, I remember my great aunt Ethel singing a song about a little dog which was lost. Aunt Ethel had been a teacher for all her working life and, despite her diminutive stature and vivid red hair (or maybe because of it) was certainly respected and possibly feared by the generations which passed through her classroom. It’s not surprising then that I had always assumed that any song she saw fit to share with a five-year-old would be of the highest moral character and, in my imagination, the little dog with his short ears and long tail had probably just wandered off and would, in due course, return to his owner a little wiser for the experience.

Move on the clock some fifty or so years to a Music Librarian sorting through the contents of some boxes containing 200 or so Victorian popular songs. (The Leeds Music and Performing Arts Library has a substantial collection of 18th and 19th Century popular songs.) Imagine the surprise and delight in discovering a copy of that half-recalled childhood memory… and the slight sense of shock that the “innocent” tale of an errant pup related to the perils of partaking of a little too much beer – and that there was a distinct possibility that the little pooch had fallen foul of a dog-catcher and ended up as not-so-much a lost dog as a hot dog (and ended up as his master’s tea).

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The song was written around 1854 by American songwriter Sep Winner, so is even older than Great Aunt Ethel, who was born in 1884.

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