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"Sic bobbing, and flinging, and whirling,
While fiddlers are making their din;
"Then fy, let us a' to the wedding,
Another of our female song-writers, the Baroness Nairne, has made an original attempt at a similar theme in her lyrical description of a County Meeting. These and many other social songs of the Scotch, draw a rich flavour from the lively relish which they express for the enjoyment of life,—a relish which compels us to give a brighter hue than is commonly given in the portraiture of the national character, and which probably tended to brighten the more sombre shade thrown upon the spirit of the people by their civil and religious history. Even the Whig, Sir Patrick Home, writing from Utrecht
-a solitary exile—before his family joined him, instructs his wife, that "Care be taken to keep the children hearty and merry, laughing, dancing, and singing. . . . . Lost estates can be recovered again, but health once lost by a habit of melancholy can never be recovered."1 Perhaps in these instructions, and in the healthy mirth which they encouraged, may be seen the source of the fine old song, Were na my Heart licht, I wad dee, which we owe to the exile's daughter, Lady Grizzel Baillie. At all events, the
1 "The Songstresses of Scotland," by Sarah Tytler and J. L. Watson, vol. i. pp. 5, 6.
songs of Scotland prove that beneath the harder and sadder surface of the national character there was a perennial spring of genial mirth, which was probably kept flowing over the social life of the people mainly by the singing of these songs.
But unhappily songs of this class do not limit themselves to the description of harmless, wholesome fun; there are, indeed, few good social songs which do not praise the zest imparted to friendly gatherings by means of a more material stimulant. This introduces us to the large collection of Scottish lyrics, which may be described in general as Drinking Songs. The most cursory acquaintance with Scottish poetry will convince anyone that these songs represent a very extensive literature, and a literature of a very remarkable character. I will not say that they surpass, in lyrical force, anything of the kind to be met with in any other literature: for sweeping assertions of that sort generally betray merely ignorance of any literature but one; while, without going beyond the modern languages, there are several German students' songs which would make such an assertion extremely questionable. But there is something distinctive in the drinking songs of the Scotch. They do not express the refined, but more artificial enjoyment of one who is politely sipping a beverage like wine, the delicate flavour of which can be appreciated only by the educated connoisseur, nor the exulting gratification of one who is quaffing a beverage like beer, which is drunk in quantities as much to quench thirst as for the sake of its mildly stimulating effect the Scots drinking song is purely and avowedly
in praise of the general elevation in mental and bodily power excited by
"Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!"
The happy play of fancy and language in which this theme is variously wrought out is excelled by nothing in the whole compass of Scottish song; but the literary skill of these productions cannot, in the present inquiry, hide from us their effect on the habits of the people. Though some of these songs express simply the impulse which is given by a stimulant to the more rapid flow of social enjoyment, yet against others I do not hesitate -and no one who studies them dispassionately can hesitate to bring the charge of seriously contributing to perpetuate what used to be a prevalent vice among all classes, what continues to be a prominent vice and the most hopeless obstacle to social reform among the working classes of Scotland. There is none of our best songs which deliberately represents any other gross vice in an attractive aspect; but in many of the drinking songs, all the charm of lyrical thought and expression is thrown around that sacrifice of intelligence to the demon of Unreason, which is truthfully represented only in language of pity or of scorn. It is true that the lyrical poet must catch an emotion while it is flowing at white heat, and run it then into the mould of song; and this may explain the extravagance with which many of the drinking songs are characterized. But the license which this principle of lyrical poetry allows is certainly exceeded in the drunken merriment to which some, though few, of these songs give utterance, over the
personal degradation resulting from the vice they en
"O gude ale comes, and gude ale goes;
"I had sax owsen in a pleuch,
And they drew teuch and weel eneuch :
Gude ale keeps my heart aboon."
The remainder of this old song, which took some touches from the hand of Burns, describes a lower stage of degradation, which does not admit of being cited. An equal transgression of the limits of all legitimate license may be charged against the old song, Cauld Kail in Aberdeen, in callously making light of those who suffer most directly by the excess which it praises :
"Johnnie Smith has got a wife,
Wha scrimps him o' his cogie;
"Twa three toddlin weans they hae,
"For I maun hae my cogie, Sirs,
With the unhappy exception of these drinking songs, the lyrics of Scotland, which are expressive of general social affection, may well evoke a gratitude similar to that which is due to the songs of domestic love. Many of them are written by authors of limited fame, and most of them give us glimpses of homes brightened by none of the elegances or luxuries, and even by few of the comforts, of earthly existence; but nearly all express, in cheery rhythm, the same deep consciousness of the absolute worth of human love, the same hearty, jeering contempt of riches without that love, the same generous regard for true worth of character even when concealed behind a lowly external appearance, the same manful self-respect in the midst of "honest poverty,”-in a word, the same clear insight into "the real guid and ill" of human life, which bursts into unrestrained utterance in every verse of the domestic songs. The Scotch have been blamed—and not altogether without justice-for an absence of genial warmth in the outward expression of their affections; yet it is probably in the Scotch Auld lang syne, as revised by Burns, that we must seek the most universally recognised hymn of friendship, and of the splendour with which friendship lights up all our memories of "the days that are no more." And well is
1 This is one of the older versions of Cauld Kail in Aberdeen. Several song-writers have tried their hand at the theme.