Recently, while digitizing some recordings from the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection, we discovered a recording of an unidentified man reading from Uncle Lisha’s Shop: Life in a Corner of Yankeeland, by Rowland E. Robinson. (Here’s our 1887 first edition copy, and here’s a copy at the Internet Archive.)
The recorded text starts on page 13, seven lines from the bottom of the page. Try reading along while listening to the antique recording below.
The reader takes on the accent of two of Robinson’s classic characters, a “Yankee” and a “Cunuck,” or a French Canadian.
Robinson wrote most of his fiction in the 1890s. His books were read widely read through the 1930s and 1940s when Helen Flanders was collecting field recordings.
Unfortunately, we don’t know who the reader is or when the recording was made. A ballad preceding this reading was originally recorded between 1939 and 1950, but we can’t be certain the singer of that ballad is the same person reading this story, or that they were recorded at the same time.
We may eventually discover a more complete version of the reading. For now, we can turn our ears to a voice from history, reading from a much loved book.
Visit the Helen Hartness Flanders Archive to learn more.
The former home of Rowland E. Robinson, in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, is a public museum. Learn more at www.Rokeby.org.