THE common English name of this primitive musical instrument is misleading, for it is not a harp nor has it any associations with Hebrews, as its appellation seems to imply. That it has nothing to do with Jews as respects either its origin or its employment is easier to demonstrate than it is to determine the real significance of its name, or the occasion of its invention. Antiquarians and lexicographers have attempted to trace the history and etymology of this term, but their suggestions are for the most part mere guesses.
Samuel Pegge, an antiquary of the eighteenth century, derives jewsharp from 'jaw's harp,' which is regarded by later authorities as absurd; and Skeat in his useful 'Etymological Dictionary' takes the singular view that this name was 'given in derision, probably with reference to the harp of David.' Dr. Littleton, adopting the vulgar error that the instrument is Jewish, inserted in his Latin Dictionary (1679), the phrase 'Sistrum Judaicum,' a mere translation, notwithstanding the fact that the term Crembalum had been used sixty years before by Praetorius in his 'Organographia.' After all, the simple proposition of another writer is not so improbable as it might seem; he suggests that, after a long interval of disuse and of forgotten name, the instrument was peddled through England and Scotland by a Jew, and the name jewsharp became naturally the popular one.
Another distinctive name current prior to the nineteenth century was 'trump,' or 'jews' trump,' prevalent especially in Scotland. The earliest mention of this musical instrument known to the writer has the latter form; in Sir Richard Holland's 'Duke of Howlat,' a Scottish poem satirizing King James, occurs a long list of musical instruments, from which we take a single line:
|The trump, and the talburn, the tympane but tray.|
This poem dates from the middle of the fifteenth century. The word trump is almost identical with the French 'trompe' applied to the jewsharp, as well as to several other musical instruments, the trumpet, the horn and even the rattle. Another common name in French is 'guimbarde'; in German the term is 'Maultrommel,' and 'Brummeisen'; in Italian it is known by the poetical expression, 'Scaccia pensieri,' banisher of thought. The word trump prevailed in Scotland, as was natural, considering the intimacy with France, and the phrase jews' trump was used by English dramatists until the end of the seventeenth century. Henrie Chettle, in the poem 'Kind Hearts' Dream,' dated 1592, wrote: "There is another juggler that being well skilled