A relative of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Philadelphia composer Septimus Winner published many songs under the pseudonym "Alice Hawthorne"; they achieved such popularity that they launched a genre that soon came to be known as "Hawthorne ballads."
Although his father was a violin maker, Winner was essentially a self-taught musician. He learned to play several instruments, including violin, guitar, and banjo, and before he was 20 he and his brother Joseph opened a music shop and began publishing scores. Over his lifetime he would produce more than 200 volumes of music and instruction manuals for 23 instruments, and made some 2,000 arrangements for violin and piano.
Winner's songs were memorably tuneful, though not especially sophisticated, and this contributed to their great popularity among amateur singers; some of them were still being taught in elementary schools a century after their composition, an honor accorded few other American popular songs of the period, aside from those of Stephen Foster.
Winner's first success came in 1850 with "How Sweet Are the Roses"; his next hit was 1854's sentimental "What Is Home Without a Mother?" One of his most enduring songs appeared the next year: "Listen to the Mockingbird" sold 20 million copies by the end of the century. Unfortunately, Winner sold the copyright for $5 (about $110 in today's dollars). Actually, though published under the Hawthorne name, the melody has been attributed to the young "Whistling" Dick Milburn, Winner's black errand boy. Milburn was a real, separate person, but the names Percy Guyer, Mark Mason, and Paul Stenton, like Alice Hawthorne, were all pseudonyms of Winner's.
Winner won notoriety during the Civil War. Upon Gen. George B. McClellan's dismissal as commander of the Army of the Potomac, Winner wrote an allegedly subversive protest song, "Give Us Back Our Old Commander: Little Mac, the People's Pride." It became so popular that Secretary of State Edwin Stanton forced him to destroy all his unsold copies. Winner had the last laugh, though, when McClellan used it as his theme song during his presidential campaign in 1864.
That song was too topical to retain popularity, but Winner did produce, among his many further works, one item whose longevity would rival that of "Listen to the Mockingbird." It was initially -- in 1864 -- a piece in German dialect, "Der Deitcher's Dog." With the lyrics "translated" into standard English, the song retained its familiarity into the twentieth century as "Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone?"