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the autumnal evening, and the winter night, are regularly rounded. If you like it, well: if not, I will insert it in the Museum.
I am out of temper that you should set so sweet, so tender an air, as, Deil tak the wars, to the foolish old verses. You talk of the silliness of, Saw ye my father : by heavens, the odds is, gold to brass ! Besides, the old song, though now pretty well modernized into the Scottish language, is, originally, and in the early editions, a bungling low imitation of the Scottish manner, by that genius Tom D'Urfey; so has no pretensions to be a Scottish production. There is a pretty English song by Sheridan in the Duenna, to this air, which is out of sight superior to D'Urfey's. It begins,
“When sable night each drooping plant restoring." The air, if I understand the expression of it properly, is the very native language of simplicity tenderness and love. I have again gone over my song to the tune as follows. *
* See the song in its first and best dress in page 181. Our bard remarks upon it, “ I could easily throw this “ into an English mould; but, to my taste, in the simple " and the tender of the pastoral song, a sprinkling of the “old Scottish, has an inimitable effect.”
Now for my English song to, Nancy's to the Greenwood, &c. *
There is an air, The Caledonian hunt's delight, to which I wrote a song that you will find in John
Ye banks and braes o bonie Doon; this air, I think, might find a place among your hundred, as Lear says of his knights. Do you know the history of the air ? It is curious enough. A good many years ago, Mr. James Miller, writer in your good town, a gentleman whom possibly you know, was in company with our friend Clarke; and talking of Scottish music, Miller expressed an ardent ambition to 02
* Here our poet gives a new edition of the song in p. 66 of this volume, and proposes it for another tune. The alterations are unimportant. The name, Maria, he changes to Eliza. Instead of the tenth and eleventh lines, as in p. 66, he introduces,
“ Love's veriest wretch, unseen, unknown,
“ I fain my griefs would cover.”
Instead of the fourteenth line, which seems not perfectly grammatical as it is printed, he has, more properly,
“Nor wilt, nor canst relieve me.”
This edition ought to have been preferred, had it been observed in time.
be able to compose a Scots air, Mr. Clarke, partly by way of joke, told him to keep to the black keys of the harpsichord, and preserve some kind of rhythm; and he would infallibly compose a Scots air. Certain it is, that in a few days, Mr. Miller produced the rudiments of an air, which Mr. Clarke, with some touches and corrections, fashioned into the tune in question. Ritson, you know, has the same story of the Black keys ; but this account which I have just given you, Mr. Clarke informed me of, several years ago. Now to shew you how difficult it is to trace the origin of our airs, I have heard it repeatedly asserted that this was an Irish air ; nay I met with an Irish gentleman who affirmed he had heard it in Ireland among the old women ; while, on the other hand, a Countess informed me, that the first person who introduced the air into this country, was a baronet's lady of her acquaintance, who took down the notes from an itinerant piper in the Isle of Man. How difficult then to ascertain the truth respecting our poesy and music! I, myself, have lately seen a couple of ballads sung through the streets of Dumfries, with my name at the head of them as the author, though it was the first time I had ever seen them.
you for admitting, Craigie-burn-wood; and I shall take care to furnish you with a new chorus. In fact, the chorus was not my.work, but a part of some old verses to the air. If I can catch myself in a more than ordinarily propitious moment, I shall write a new Craigie-burn-wood altogether. My heart is much in the theme.
I am ashamed, my dear fellow, to make the request ; 'tis dunning your generosity; but in a moment, when I had forgotten whether I was rich or poor, I promised Chloris a copy of your songs. It wrings my honest pride to write you this ; but an ungracious request is doubly so, by a tedious apology. To make you some amends, as soon as I have extracted the necessary information out of them, I will return you Ritson's volumes.
The lady is not a little proud that she is to make so distinguished a figure in your collection, and I am not a little proud that I have it in my power to please her so much. Lucky it is for your patience that my paper is done, for when I am in a scribbling humour, I know not when to give over.
MR. THOMSON TO MR. BURNS.
15th November, 1794.
MY GOOD SIR,
SINCE receiving your last, I have had another interview with Mr. Clarke, and a long consultation. He thinks the Caledonian hunt is more Bacchanalian than amorous in its nature, and recommends it to you to match the air accordingly. Pray did it ever occur to you how peculiarly well the Scottish airs are adapted for verses in the form of a dialogue? The first part of the air is generally low, and suited for a man's voice, and the second part in many instances cannot be sung, at concert pitch, but by a female voice. A song thus performed makes an agreeable variety, but few of ours are written in this form : I wish you would think of it in some of those that remain. The only one of the