« PreviousContinue »
number, that in their old shape were either too uncouth or too indecent for introduction into refined and moral company. A greater than Johnson shortly afterwards appeared in the person of the late George Thomson of Edinburgh. Mr. Thomson availed himself of the same renowned and happy pen; and with this assistance, did more than any previous collector had done to give Scottish music the world-wide celebrity and favour which it now enjoys.
Burns created no new taste among his countrymen. He but developed, extended, and improved that which he found already existing; and hence his immediate and long-continued popularity. The Muse of Scotland is a pastoral fair one,-a beautiful bare-footed lassie, “with her loose robes” and “her yellow hair” floating in the wind; with blue eyes full of passion, romance, and tenderness; with a quaint, yet pleasing and highly-melodious expression on her tongue; with a heart as prone to be fanatical in religion as romantic in affection; and above all, with a luxurious sense of physical enjoyment, and with a keen appreciation and taste for the humorous.
The beauty of Scottish song is its truth and simplicity. Burns, as well as his great forerunners, compeers, and successors, always appealed to the heart. Unlike the songwriters of England, whom, with few exceptions, they immeasurably excel, they never wasted their time in mere conceits and prettinesses. What they felt they said, and what they said they expressed in the pithy language of real emotion, not the less effective because expressed in a provincial dialect. Their tenderness is as manly as their independence; and their wit, if sometimes coarse, is always genial and genuine. Their pictures of rural life are full of charm and of a vivid reality. The landscape, with all its colours and sounds, exists in their lays.
It may be doubted whether the song-writers of any other
people ever depicted youthful passion in all its varieties of joy and sorrow with more heart-felt fervour and irresistible fascination. These bards, many of them nameless, make no pretence to be refined; yet amidst their rudest snatches we often light upon the happiest thoughts, expressed in the happiest manner, and with refinement that no poets in any age have excelled. The stream of their song is a true Pactolus. There may be small flowers and weeds upon its banks; but it runs over golden sands, and abounds in treasures that may be had for the seeking, even when the current appears most turbid and least promising. We may sum up
its characteristics in one word,-earnestScottish song is earnest in love and friendship, earnest in war, earnest in patriotism, and earnest even in drinking. Though the moralist might wish that, in the latter respect, the Scottish bards were not quite so emphatic, we must take the defects with the virtues, and be thankful that we have a literature with so few faults and so many beauties, and, above all, with so much heart in it, as they have given to us.
In a collection limited to one volume it is manifestly impossible that we could have included more than the cream”perhaps we might say, “the cream of the cream”-of such vast stores of song as have been accumulating for the last three centuries. We think, however, that it will be found, even by those readers the best acquainted with the subject, that this volume contains all, or nearly all, the most celebrated, beautiful, and characteristic of the Scottish songs, whether pastoral, amatory, patriotic, convivial, or Jacobite; and that the selections under each of these heads are as copious as is consistent with the design. We have been reluctantly compelled to omit the songs of living writers, not from any unwillingness on the part of the most distinguished among them to allow their composi
tions to appear in these pages, but from the utter impossibility of conveying in the small space to which we have restricted ourselves any thing like an adequate view of a department of modern literature so extensive and so varied. The name of these writers is indeed "legion;" for the popular ear is so susceptible
LIE of ABERDEEN SHIRE, Who died 1782 Aged 105.
to the sweet sounds of the national melodies, and the dialect of Scotland lends itself so naturally and so easily to song, that the feelings of the illiterate, as well as of the educated, seem to flow more copiously into lyrical expression than is the case in other countries. Not only the scholar in his study, and the professed rhymers and authors, but the tradesman behind his counter, the weaver at the mill, the ploughman in the field, and the fisherman in his boat, have written or composed songs; and even the tramps and vagrants have been known in our days, as well as in those of Allan Ramsay and Robert Burns, to have been the authors of no contemptible emendations and new readings of the old ballads, as well as of original snatches of poetry adapted to the old tunes. The cities of Edinburgh and of Glasgow alone have produced within the last dozen years as many good Scottish songs as would fill three or four such volumes as that we now offer to the public, and the greater portion of which have been collected and published under the title of “Whistle Binkie.” A few of the compositions of the late Alexander Rodger and Donald Carrick, the most distinguished contributors to that volume, will be found in our pages,—which, by the kind permission of the publisher, might have included many more,
had not the limited space at our command imperatively forced us to exclude the multitude of living writers that would have had as much title to appear as any one whom we might have selected. “ For,” to use the words of Burns,
O Lusty May, with Flora queen,
Prelucent beam before the day ;
Through gladness of this lusty May.
Then Aurora that is so bright,
Right pleasantly before the day,
Through gladness of this lusty May.
Birds on their boughs of every sort
On banks that bloom and every brae,