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Your observation as to the aptitude of Dr. Percy's ballad to the air Nanie 0, is just. It is besides, perhaps, the most beautiful ballad in the English language. But let me remark to you, that, in the sentiment and style of our Scottish airs, there is a pastoral simplicity, a something that one may call the Doric style and dialect of vocal music, to which a dash of our native tongue and manners is particularly, nay peculiarly, apposite. For this reason, and, upon my honour, for this reason alone, I am of opinion (but, as I told you before, my opinion is yours, freely yours, to approve, or reject, as you please) that my ballad of Nanie O might, perhaps, do for one set of verses to the tune. Now don't let it enter into your head, that you are under any necessity of taking my verses.
I have long ago made up my mind as to my own reputation in the business of authorship; and have nothing to be pleased or offended at, in your adoption or rejection of my verses. Though you should reject one half of what I give you, I shall be pleased with your adopting the other half, and shall continue to serve you with the same assiduity.
In the printed copy of my Nanie O, the name
, of the river is horridly prosaic. I will alter it,
“ Behind yon hills where Lugar flows."
Girvan is the name of the river that suits the idea of the stanza best, but Lugar is the most agreeable modulation of syllables.
I will soon give you a great many more remarks on this business; but I have just now an opportunity of conveying you this scrawl, free of postage, an expense that it is ill able to pay : so, with my best compliments to honest Allan, Good be wi' ye, &c.
Saturday Morning As I find I have still an hour to spare this morning before my conveyance goes away, I will give you Nanie O at length. (v. vol. iii. p. 277.)
Your temarks on Ewe-bughts, Marion, are just: still it has obtained a place among our more elassical Scottish Songs ; and what, with many beau. . ties in its composition, and more prejudices in its favour, you will not find it easy to supplant it.
In my very early years, when I was thinking of going to the West-Indies, I took the following farewell of a dear girl. It is quite trifling, and has nothing of the merits of Ewe-bughts; but it will fill up this page. You must know, that
. all my earlier love songs were the breathings of ardent passion, and though it might have been easy in after-times to have given them a polish, yet that polish, to me, whose they were, and who perhaps alone cared for them, would have defaced the legend of my heart, which was so faithfully inscribed on them. Their un. couth simplicity was, as they say of wines, their
WILL ye go to the Indies, my Mary,
And leave auld Scotia's shore?
Across th' Atlantic's roar ?
O sweet grows the lime and the orange,
And the apple on the pine;
Can never equal thine.
I hae sworn by the Heavens to my Mary,
I hae sworn by the Heavens to be true; And sae may the Heavens forget me,
When I forget my vow!
O plight me your faith, my Mary,
And plight me your lily-white hand;
Before I leave Scotia's strand.
We hae plighted our troth, my Mary,
In mutual affection to join ;
The hour and the moment o'time!*
Galla Water, and Auld Rob Morris, I think, will most probably be the next subject of my musings. However, even on my verses, speak out your criticisms with equal frankness. My wish is, not to stand aloof, the uncomplying bigot of opiniâtreté, but cordially to join issue with you in the furtherance of the work,
MR. BURNS to MR. THOMSON.
November 8th, 1792. IF
you mean, my dear Sir, that all the songs in your collection shall be poetry of the first merit, I am afraid you will find more difficulty in
* This song Mr. Thomson has not adopted in his collection. It deserves bowever to be preserved, E.
the undertaking than you are aware of. There is a peculiar rhythmus in many of our airs, and a necessity of adapting syllables to the emphasis, or what I would call the feature notes of the tune, that cramp the poet, and lay him under almost insuperable difficulties. For instance, in the air, My wife's a wanton wee thing, if a few lines smooth and pretty can be adapted to it, it is all you can expect. The following were made extempore to it; and though, on farther study, I might give you something more profound, yet it might not suit the light-horse gallop of the air so well as this random clink.
MY WIFE'S A WINSOME WEE THING.
She is a winsome wee thing,
I never saw a fairer,
She is a winsome wee thing,