Governor Bob Taylor

The Bastrop Advertiser
Bastrop, Bastrop County, Texas
May 5, 1900



Experience teaches us that first impressions are the more lasting. Next to the impressions which I received from a dog-wood sprout or twig of a weeping willow, when I was a barefoot boy, are the impressions which were made upon my young mind and heart by the fiddlers. The tunes they used to play got tangled in my memory and they are just as vivid there [today] as are the faces I used to known and the incidents and happenings of the hapy days gone by.

I can see Polk Scott and Sam Rowe just as plainly now as I actually saw them when I was [a] ten year old lad at the old log schoolhouse that stood by the bubbling spring. They played at the “exhibition” at the close of our school; and I have never heard any sweeter music since. Sam’s big brown whiskers rolled and tumbled in ecstasy on his fiddle, as he rocked to and fro, with half-closed eyes, and, with whizzing bow, reveled in the third heaven of “Arkansas Traveler.” Polk’s black mustache swayed and flopped like a raven’s wings, as he soared amid the grandeurs of “Natchez Under the Hill.”

They were the “Paganinis” of the mountains; they were the “ole Bulls” of our humble society; they were the royal “Remenyis” of our rural, rollicking festivities; they were big-hearted and genial; they were noble fellows, and so are all the fiddlers to this good day. Their melodies were the echoes of nature’s sweet voices. In every sweep of the bow there was the drumming of a pheasant or the cackle of a hen or the call of Bob White or the trill of a thrush. Sometimes I could hear a whippoor-will sing; sometimes a wild goose quack, and a panther yell; now and then the cats would fight, and the music was always mellow with “moonshine.”

When I grew a little larger I used to slip out from under the smiling roof of “home, sweet home,” and cut the pigeon wing with the rosy-cheeked mountain girls, until it seemed that my very soul was in my heels. I still have fond recollections of every fiddler who played at the old-time country dance; and when I hear those sweet old tunes, even now it is difficult for me to keep my soul above my socks.

So far as I am concerned, I am a worshipper at the shrine of music. The classics of Mozart and Mendelssohn are grand and glorious to me, but I cannot be persuaded to turn my back on the classics of the plain country fiddlers. The old country tunes were handed down from the days of the Revolution, and every one of them breathes the spirit of liberty; every old jig in an echo from the flintlock rifles and shrill fifes of Bunker Hill; every “hornpipe” is a refrain from King’s Mountain; “Old Granny Rattletrap” is a Declaration of Independence; “Jennie, Put the Kittle On,” boils over with freedom; “Jaybird Settin’ on a Swingin’ Limb” was George Washington’s “favoright;” and “Gray Eagle” was Thomas Jefferson’s masterpiece; “leather Breeches” was the Marseilles hymn of the old heroes who lived in the days of Davy Crockett.

No wonder the fiddlers are so patriotic and brave. I never saw a real, genuine fiddler who would not fight; but mind you, I have quit fiddling.

When I grew large enough to cast sheep’s eyes at the girls, when love began to tickle my heart and the blood of the violets got into my veins, I began to draw the bow across the vibrant strings of the fiddle to give vent to my feelings, and I poured my spirit out through my fingers by the bucketful. I swapped spirit for smiles at the ratio of sixteen to one; I exchanged clogs for compliments, and jigs for sighs and sentimental exclamations. No ordinary mortal ever felt the raptures of a fiddler; the fiddle is his bride, and the honeymoon lasts forever.

I fiddled and I fiddled and I fiddled, until youth blossomed into manhood, and still I fiddled and I fiddled. Politicians sneered at me as a fiddler; but the girls said it was no harm, and the boys voted while I fiddled, and the fiddle won. There is always some old sour tuneless hypocrite abusing and denouncing “its fiddlers.” I have heard them say that they never saw a fiddler who was “any account,” and I have known good men who sincerely believed that fiddlers were dangerous to communities. There never was a greater error of opinion. There is no more harm in wiggling the fingers than there is in wagging the tongue, and there is a great deal more religion in a good, law-abiding fiddle than there is in some folks who outlaw that divine instrument. There is infinitely more music in it than there is in some hymns I have heard sung by old dyspeptics who denounce it. Music is music, whether it be the laughter and song of the fiddle or the melodies of the human voice; music is the hallelujah of the soul, whether it comes through fiddlestrings or vocal cords. Happy is the home in which fiddles and fiddlers dwell, and nearest to heaven is the church where fiddlers and singers blend their music in hymns of praise to Almighty God.

I have heard cultivated musicians laugh at the country fiddler, and call his tunes “rag music;” but the law of compensation governs in this realm, as well as in every other, for the country fiddlers laugh just as heartily at the sublimest efforts of high class musicians. Neither can understand the other. To the noteless and untutored fiddler the grandest efforts of the greatest orchestra are the senseless hieroglyphics of sound; to the cultured ear the simple melodies which dance out from the bosom of the fiddle and the soul of the fiddler are but the ridiculous buzzings of bumblebee discord.

But there is no reason why the virtuoso and the fiddler should fall out. Let the nightingale sing in his realm, and let the cricket sing in his. We will all play together on golden fiddles in the “sweet by and by.”

Yours truly,

[transcribed by Steve Green, December 30, 2012]

Taylor's letter to fiddlers appeared also in the Henderson Times (Rusk County, Texas) June 1, 1899, and probably other papers as well.