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Thou of an independent mind
Edinburgh, September, 1792. SIR,
For some years past, I have, with a friend or two, employed many leisure hours in selecting and collating the most favourite of our national melodies for publication. We have engaged Pleyel, the most agreeable composer living, to put accompaniments to these, and also to compose an instrumental prelude and conclusion to each air, the better to fit them for concerts, both public and private. To render this work perfect, we are desirous to have the poetry improved, wherever it seems unworthy of the music ; and that it is so in many instances, is allowed by every
one conversant with our musical collections. The editors of these seem in general to have depended on the music proving an excuse for the verses; and hence, some charming melodies are united to mere nonsense and doggerel, while others are accommodated with rhymes so loose and indelicate, as cannot be sung in decent company. To remove this reproach, would be an easy task to the author of The Cotter's Saturday Night; and, for the honour of Caledonia, I would fain hope he may be induced to take
If so, we shall be enabled to present the public with a collection infinitely more interesting than any that has yet appeared, and acceptable to all persons of taste, whether they wish for correct melodies, delicate accompaniments, or characteristic verses.-We will esteem your poetical assistance a particular favour, besides paying any reasonable price you shall please to demand for it. Profit is quite a secondary consideration with us, and we are resolved to spare neither pains nor expense on the publication. Tell me frankly, then, whether
will devote your leisure to writing twenty or twenty-five songs, suited to the particular melodies which I am prepared to send you. A few songs, exceptionable only in some of their verses, I will likewise submit to your consideration; leaving it to you, either to mend these, or make new songs in their stead. It is superfluous to assure you that I have no intention to dis
place any of the sterling old songs; those only will be removed, which appear quite silly, or absolutely indecent. Even these shall all be examined by Mr. Burns, and if he is of opinion that any of them are deserving of the music, in such cases no divorce shall take place.
Relying on the letter accompanying this, to be forgiven for the liberty I have taken in addressing you, I am, with great esteem, Sir, your most obedient humble servant,
MR. BURNS to MR. THOMSON.
Dumfries, 16th Sept. 1792. SIR,
HAVE just this moment got your letter. As the request you make to me will positively add to my enjoyments in complying with it, I shall enter into your undertaking with all the small portion of abilities I have, strained to their utmost exertion by the impulse of enthusiasm. Only, don't hurry me: “ Deil tak the hindmost," is by no means the cri de my muse. Will you, as I am inferior to none
of you in enthusiastic attachment to the poetry and music of old Caledonia, and, since quest it, have cheerfully promised my mite of assistance—will you let me have a list of your airs, with the first line of the printed verses you intend for them, that I may have an opportunity of suggesting any alteration that may occur to me. You : know 'tis in the
trade; still leaving you, gentlemen, the undoubted right of pubJishers, to approve, or reject, at your pleasure, for your own publication. Apropos: if you are for English verses, there is, on my part, an end of the matter. Whether in the simplicity of the ballad, or the pathos of the song, I can only hope to please myself in being allowed at least a sprinkling of our native tongue. English verses, particularly the works of Scotsmen, that have merit, are certainly very eligible. Tweedside ; Ah! the poor shepherd's mournful fate! Ah! Chloris could I now but sit, &c. you cannot mend; but such insipid stuff as, To Fanny fair could I impart, &c., usually set to The Mill, Mill O, is a: disgrace to the collections in which it has already appeared, and would doubly disgrace a collection that will have the very superior merit of yours: But more of this in the farther prosecution of the business, if I am called on for my strictures, and amendments—I say, amendments; for I will not alter except where I myself at least think that I amend.