Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Little Slaves of the Harp

Little Slaves of the Harp: Italian Child Street Musicians in Nineteenth-Century Paris, London, and New York

Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Little Slaves of the Harp
    Book Description:

    The padrone were often known to the families of the children or were from the same villages. While some were cruel exploiters who compelled obedience through terror and abuse - a view promoted by a few, well-publicized cases - the lot of most of these children was similar to that of child apprentices and helpers in other trades.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6326-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Maps
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    In 1870 a nine-year-old boy named Giuseppe was awakened one night by a man who took him with eight other children from his town, Calvello, in the region of Basilicata, on a long trek to the port of Naples. Giuseppe and the boys immediately learned to call the man “padrone” and to obey his instructions. From Naples the master and his troupe set sail for New York. Their address in that burgeoning metropolis was 45 Crosby Street, which, as it turned out, was the most notorious “child den” in the city. After spending his first night with his companions sleeping...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Emigration and the Street Music Trade
    (pp. 17-41)

    Italian child street musicians appeared in London and Paris after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The Napoleonic Wars had ended and the tenuous peace created by the new balance of power assured travellers a degree of safe passage on the roads of Europe just as the post-war economic depression gave them the incentive to leave their homes. The children were not sent to their destinations by boat, wagon, or train, at least not until later in the century. Rather, their masters led them on foot from small towns and villages in the Duchy of Parma and from the district...

  7. CHAPTER TWO “Les Petits llaliens” in Paris
    (pp. 42-75)

    Mountebanks, charlatans, diviners, marionettists, animal exhibitors, jugglers, and musicians of all kinds had worked on the streets of Paris since the Middle Ages. In the mid-eighteenth century, public posters announced young dancers from Holland and England at the quatrième traverse, or the artificial flowers that turned into fruit at the head of the rue de la Chaudronnerie, or an “academy” of monkeys and dogs trained by a Venetian named Myoli on the rue de Paris.¹ The numbers and visibility of these entertainers are documented by the many laws that regulated them and their performances from the time of the Revolution....

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. CHAPTER THREE “The Organ Boys” in London
    (pp. 76-110)

    The young boys from Parma made their first appearance in London soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. In March 1820 theTimesreported that “the public have of late been exceedingly annoyed by the appearance of a number of Italian boys with monkeys and white mice wandering about the streets, exciting the compassion of the benevolent.” Apparently, two Italian men brought at least twenty children from towns near Parma to London on a fifteen-month contract for the express purpose of begging in the streets. Each boy was given a monkey, mouse, or squirrel, and at the end of...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER FOUR “The Little Slaves” in New York
    (pp. 111-143)

    Child street musicians had been travelling to New York well before young Joseph, whom we met in the introduction to this volume, was discovered in Central Park. Some may have lived in the city in the early part of the nineteenth century, but not much was made of their presence until the 1840s. New York began to emerge as the centre of commerce and trade in the United States in the late eighteenth century; when the Italian organ-grinders reached North America, it was only natural that the city should also become the centre of the child musician trade. As in...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE Italian Legislation 1868–1873
    (pp. 144-163)

    During the 1860s and 1870s Italian statesmen, bureaucrats, and diplomats were concerned with the plight of the street children. In 1868 a parliamentary commission investigated the trade (tratta) and drew up a bill sponsored by two ministries to prohibit the use of children in itinerant occupations. Over the next five years the bill was debated and modified in both houses of the Italian Parliament until it was finally passed. It seems odd that a few thousand children should have commanded the attention of so many officials at all levels of government, especially when they had other important concerns. The Ministry...

  13. CHAPTER SIX Conclusion
    (pp. 164-171)

    The Italian child street musicians had largely disappeared from the streets of Europe and the Americas by the late 1880s. Their departure, like their arrival, was a product of the dialogue between the urban and the rural. Reformers in New York, London, Paris, and Rome responded to their presence with legislation to ban them from the streets. The street musicians, their masters, and their families responded to the social and economic climate in each city by directing the migration of the children to other trades or commerce or other towns, or simply by returning home. Adult street musicians also retreated...

  14. APPENDIX A Sample Contracts between a Padrone and a Parent
    (pp. 172-174)
  15. APPENDIX B The Italian Law to Prohibit the Employment of Children in Itinerant Trades, 21 December 1873, no.1733(series 11)
    (pp. 175-178)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 179-196)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-205)
  18. Index
    (pp. 206-208)