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scenes of simple nature will not please generally, if copied precisely as they are. The poet, like the painter, must select what will form an agreeable as well as a natural picture. On this subject it were easy to enlarge; but at present suffice it to say, that I consider simplicity, rightly understood, as a most essential quality in composition, and the ground work of beauty in all the arts. I will gladly appropriate your most interesting new ballad When wild wars deadly blast, &c. to the Mill mill O, as well as the two other songs to their respective airs ; but the third and fourth line of the first verse must undergo some little alteration in order to suit the music. Pleyel does not alter a single note of the songs. That would be absurd indeed! With the airs which he introduces into the sonatas, I allow him to take such liberties as he pleases, but that has nothing to do with the songs.
P.S. I wish you would do as you proposed with your Rigs of Barley. If the loose sentiments are threshed out of it, I will find an air for it; but as to this there is no hurry.
No. No. XXIV.
MR. BURNS TO MR. THOMSON.
WHEN I tell you, my dear Sir, that a friend of mine, in whom I am much interested, has fallen a sacrifice to these accursed times, you will easily allow that it might unhinge me for doing any good among ballads. My own loss, as to pecuniary matters, is trifling; but the total ruin of a much loved friend, is a loss indeed. Pardon my seeming inattention to your last commands.
I cannot alter the disputed lines, in the Mill mill 0.* What you think a defect, I esteem as a
* The lines were the third and fourth. See
Wi' mony a sweet babe fatherless,
As our poet had maintained a long silence, and the first
positive beauty : so you see how doctors differ. 1 shall now with as much alacrity as I can muster, go on with your commands.
You know Fraser, the hautboy player in Edinburgh-he is here, instructing a band of music for a fencible corps quartered in this country. Among many of his airs that please me, there is one, well known as a reel by the name of The Quaker's Wife ; and which I remember a grand aunt of mine used to sing, by the name of Liggeram cosh, my bonie wee lass. Mr. Fraser plays it slow, and with an expression that quite charms me. I became such an enthusiast about it, that I made a song for it, which I here subjoin ; and inclose Fraser's set of the tune. If they hit your fancy, they are at your service; if not, return me the tune, and I will put it in Johnson's Museum. I think the song is not in my worst
number of Mr. Thomson's Musical Work was in the press, this gentleman ventured by Mr. Erskine's advice to substitute for them in that publication,
“ And eyes again with pleasure beamed
“ That had been bleared with mourning.”
Though better suited to the music, these lines are inferior to the original. This is the only alteration adopted by Mr. Thomson, which Burns did not approve, or at least assent to.
Tune-“ LIGGERAM COSH."
Blythe hae I been on yon hill,
As the lambs before me;
As the breeze flew o'er me :
Mirth or sang can please me;
Care and anguish seize me.
Heavy, heavy is the task,
Hopeless love declaring :
Sighing, dumb, despairing !
In my bosom swelling;
Soon maun be my dwelling.
I should wish to hear how this pleases you.
MR. BURNS TO MR. THOMSON.
June 25th, 1793.
you ever, my dear Sir, felt your bosom ready to burst with indignation on reading of those mighty villains who divide kingdom against kingdom, desolate provinces, and lay nations waste out of the wantonness of ambition, or often from still more ignoble passions? In a mood of this kind to-day, I recollected the air of Logan Water; and it occurred to me that its querulous melody probably had its origin from the plaintive indignation of some swelling, suffering heart, fired at the tyrannic strides of some public destroyer ; and overwhelmed with private distress, the consequence of a country's ruin. If I have done any thing at all like justice to my feelings, the following song, composed in three-quarters of an hour's meditation in my elbow-chair, ought to have some merit.