Proceed with caution

Sunday July 10, 2005

Piano tutor book
The BEST in the WORLD

“You’ll never find it,” Graham said, taking a break from copying audio CDs to take with him to Somerset. “Unless you look in a museum, of course.”

“How much do you want to bet?”

He looked at me, sized up my determination, and declined the offer of a harmless flutter. “Not when you look like that,” he said. “Go and see if you can find one.”

See, when I was a youth, attending weekly lessons with my very first piano teacher, I was taught from a floppy-paged piano instruction book: Smallwood’s Piano Tutor—The BEST in the WORLD. Goodness knows how many hours I spent working my way through that, playing the exercises, over and over, because I can see it now, half a century later, when I close my eyes. Not only that, but I can recall the words of one of the songs, and sing them, too. We used to croon away at it, my piano teacher and I, crying sentimental tears over tea and biscuits, sitting at the piano in her small parlour in Worcester Park. Wish I could remember her name, but it’s gone. I do remember the real tiger skin rug in front of the fire. Hated the thing. Made me sad, it did, just like the little flower girl in the song, a reminder of days gone past when glassy-eyed stuffed tiger heads were acceptable things to have about you in your home, and waifs on street corners, too, I suppose.

So, anyway, not only did I find it but I discovered that it’s still in print, still in use, and while probably frowned upon by the politically correct, still recommended by piano teachers of the old school. I ordered a copy. I’m looking forward to propping it up on my new piano and working through every exercise, every scale, and every song, many, many times until I can sight read fluently again.

“Told you,” I said.

“Yeah. I should know better.”

“I even remember the words of one of the songs,” I said, and proceeded to do my very best rendition of “Won’t you buy my pretty flowers” with all the pathos stops pulled firmly out.

“You do that again,” he said, “and I shall be forced to kill you.”

“Don’t be unkind.”

“I’ll be unkind if I want to. I’ve only got another week to be unkind.”

“Oh. Alright, then. Proceed with caution.”


Wont You Buy My Pretty Flowers? (1874)
Words by Arthur W. French
Music by George W. Persley

Underneath the gaslight’s glitter,
Stands a little fragile girl,
Heedless of the nightwinds bitter,
As they ’round about her whirl,
While the hundreds pass unheeding,
In the evening’s waning hours,
Still she cries with tearful pleading,
Wont you buy me pretty flow’rs?


There are many sad and weary,
In this pleasant world of ours,
Crying ev’ry night so dreary,
Wont you buy my pretty flow’rs?



7 responses to “Proceed with caution

  1. Splendid blog! I stumbled across your blog because I suddenly had an urge to buy Smallwood Piano Tutor. It was in this book that I first encountered “Won’t you buy my pretty flowers” – I sing the song when I remember my childhood. The yellow book used to sit in a piano bench while I was young, some 28 years ago, and this was in Nigeria. My father had it from his days of playing the piano. I really enjoyed the bit about sentimental tears over tea and biscuit – “Won’t you buy my pretty flowers” will move you to tears all the time if you sing it from the depth of your belly.

  2. I was searching for this song for some time and I am very glad to find it here.

    I was taught this song in school when I was in third grade in India in a small town about 44 yeras ago

    I used to sing a few lines of this song to my self from time to time. It has meloncholy quality and I can never forget it.

    I am very happy to see it againg on your site!

    I’m delighted to have put the song in your way again, Rajiv. Call again anytime!

  3. I am 74 years old. I have searched for this song for decades. I despaired of ever coming across it. I remembered a few lines and wrote them over and over again. I knew the tune, or most of it. You cannot imagine how overjoyed I am. My very sincere gratitude.

  4. Thanks for your perservance in locating Smallwood’s Piano Tutor. I was 12/13 yrs old in Jamiaca, B.W.I., when I practised “Won’t You buy My Pretty Flowers.” I am now 84, and a couple wks. ago was reminiscing with my daughter about the days when I played that piece and how much I would like to find it. I am not computer savy, but she found Smallwood’s without any effort, and I am now blissfully enjoying not only that piece but several others that I had forgotten. Smallwood’s without question is the best there is and ever was.
    Again, my gratitude.

  5. Suzanne Barrett

    I am very glad to have found this book again. In fact I’m bidding on a copy at this very moment. It reminds me of my gran Dorothy, my grandad (whose favourite song was ‘Silver threads amongst the gold,’ and my sister who is the real pianist in the family. A sentimental but worthy find. I look forward to teaching myself the songs again.

  6. My Mother used to sing this song to my sisters and me, many years ago. My Mother is long gone as well as two sisters. I was delighted to find the words and wonder if there are any recordings out there to be had. I would love to hear it sung once more.
    Thanks for being there for the older generation.

  7. wends armstrong

    how bizarre… I stumbled across this blog as I was looking up the book I was taught when I began my piano lessons. I actually bought it in a music shop a few weeks ago and realised even 35 years later I can still go onto auto pilot as i go through the exercises.

    Bay of Dublin was my favourite, and Bonny Scottie was my bugbear that I always made a mistake in the same place. (and still do it would seem).

    The oddest thing is, I live in Worcester Park…

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