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Mr. Clarke, is one of our sweetest Scottish songs, He is quite an enthusiast about it; and I would take his taste in Scottish music against the taste of most connoisseurs.
You are quite right in inserting the last five in your list, though they are certainly Irish. Shepherds, I have lost my love, is to me a heavenly air--what would you think of a set of Scottish verses to it? I have made one to it a good while ago, which I think * * * * * * * * * * * * but in its original state it is not quite a lady's song. I inclose an altered, not amended copy for you, if you chuse to set the tune to it, and let the Irish verses follow*.
Mr. Erskine's songs are all pretty, but his Lone Vale is divine.
Yours, &c. Let me know just how you like these random hints,
Mr. THOMSON to Mr. BURNS.
Edinburgh, April, 1793. I rejoice to find, my dear sir, that ballad-màking continues to be your hobby-horse.-Great
* Mr. Thomson, it appears, did not approve of this song, even in its altered state. It does not appear in the correspondence : but it is probably one to be found in his MSS, beginning,
“ Yestreen I got a pint of wine,
A place where body saw na ;
The gowden locks of Anna."
It is highly characteristic of our bard, but the strain of sentiment does not correspond with the air, to which he proposes it should be allied. E
pity 'twould be, were it otherwise.
I hope you will amble it away for many a year, and “ witch the world with your horsemanship."
I know there are a good many lively songs of merit, that I have not put down in the list sent you ; but I have them all in my eye.
My Patie is a lover gay though a little unequal, is a natural and very plea ing song, and I humbly think we ought not to displace or alter it, except the last stanza*.
Mr. BURNS to Mr. THOMSON.
April, 1793. I have yours, my dear sir, this moment. I shall answer it and your former letter, in my de sultory way of saying whatever comes uppermost.
The business of many of our tunes wanting at the beginning what fiddlers call, a starting-note, is often a rub to us poor rhymers.
* There's braw, braw lads on Yarrow braes, That wander thro' the blooming heather,"
You may alter to
“ Braw, braw lads on Yarrow braes, Ye wander, &c."
My song, Here awa, there awa, as amended by
* The original letter from Mr. Thomson contains many observations on the Scottish songs, and on the manner of adapting the words to the music, which, at his desire, are suppressed. The subseqnent letter of Mr. Burns refers to several of these observations. E.
Mr. Erskine, I entirely approve of, and return you*
Give me leave to criticise your taste in the only thing in which it is, in my opinion, reprehensible. You know I ought to know something of my own trade,
of pathos, sentiment, and point, you are a complete judge; but there is a quality more necessary than either, in a song, and which is the very essence of a ballad, I mean simplicity : now, if I mistake not, this last feature you are a little apt to sacrifice to the foregoing.
Ramsay, as every other poet, has not heen always equally happy in his pieces: still I cannot approve of taking such liberties with an author as Mr. W. proposes doing with The last time I came o'er the moor'. Let a poet, if he chuses, take up the idea of another, and work it into a piece of his own ; but to mangle the works of the poor bard, whose tuneful tongue is now mute for ever, in the dark and narrow house ; by heaven, 'twould be sacrilege! I grant that Mr. W's version is an improvement; but, I know Mr. W. well, and esteem him much ; let him mend the song, as the Highlander mended his gun: he gave it a new stock, a new lock, and a new barrel.
I do not, by this, object to leaving out improper stanzas, where that can be done without spoiling the whole. One stanza in The lass o' Patie's mill, must be left out: the song will be nothing worse for it. I am not sure if we can take the same liberty with Corn rigs are bonie. Perhaps it might want the last stanza, and be the better for it, Cauld kail in Aberdeen, you must leave with me yet a while. I have vowed to have a song to that air, on the lady whom I attempted to celebrate in the verses, Poortith cauld and restless love. At any rate, my other song, Green grow the rashes, will never suit. That song is current in Scots
* The reader has already seen, that Burns did not finally adopt all of Mr. Erskine's alterations, E.
highly agreeable. It is very possible I may not have the true idea of simplicity in composition. I confess there are several songs of Allan Ram. say's, for example, that I think silly enough, which another p: l'son, more conversant than I have been with country people, would perhaps call simple and natural. But the lowest 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. 1 will gladly appropriate your most interesting new ballad, When wild war's deadly blast, &'c. to the Mill mill 0, 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 dues 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 thresh-d out of it, I will find an air for it; but as to this there is no hurry.
Mr. BURNS to Mr. THOMSON.
June, 1793. 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 O*. What you think a defect, I esteem as a positive beauty; so you see how doctors differ. I 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 bonnie 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
* The lines were the third and fourth.
“Wi' mony a sweet babe fatherless,
And mony a widow mourning."
As our poet had maintained a long silence, and the first 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. E. Vol. IL