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MR. BURNS to MR. THOMSON.
30th August, 1794. The last evening, as I was straying out, and thinking of, O'er the hills and far away, I spun the following stanza for it; but whether my spinning will deserve to be laid
in store, like the precious thread of the silk-worm, or brushed to the devil, like the vile manufacture of the spider, I leave, my dear Sir, to your usual candid criticism. I was pleased with several lines in it at first : but I own that now it appears rather a flimsy business.
This is just a hasty sketch, until I see whether it be worth a critique. We have many sailor songs, but as far as I at present recollect, they are mostly the effusions of the jovial sailor, not the wailings of his love-lorn mistress. I must here make one sweet exception-Sweet Annie frae the sea-beach came.
Now for the song.
ON THE SEAS AND FAR AWAY.
Tune_" O'ER THE HILLS," &c.
How can my poor heart be glad,
On the seas and far away,
with him that's far away.
When in summer's noon I faint,
Fate do with me what you may,
On the seas, &c.i.
At the starless midnight hour,
pray, For his weal that's far away.
On the seas, &c.
Peace, thy olive wand extend,
On the seas, &c.
I give you leave to abuse this song, but do it in the spirit of christian meekness.
No. No. LV.
MR. THOMSON to MR. BURNS.
Edinburgh, 16th Sept. 1794.
MY DEAR SIR,
have anticipated my opinion of On the seas and far away; I do not think it one of your very happy productions, though it certainly contains stanzas that are worthy of all acceptation.
The second is the least to my liking, particularly, “ Bullets, spare my only joy." Confound the bullets! It might, perhaps, be objected to the third verse, " At the starless midnight hour," that it has too much grandeur of imagery, and that greater simplicity of thought would have better suited the character of a sailor's sweetheart. The tune, it must be remembered, is of the brisk, cheerful kind. Upon the whole, therefore, in my humble opinion, the song would be better adapted to the tune, if it consisted only of the first and last verses, with the chorusses.
MR. BURNS to Mr. THOMSON.
Sept. 1794. I SHALL withdraw my, On the seas and far away, altogether: it is unequal, and unworthy the work. Making a poem is like begetting a son: you cannot know whether you have a wise man or a fool, until you produce him to the world to try him.
For that reason I send you the offspring of my brain, abortions and all; and, as such, pray look over them, and forgive them, and burn them. * I am flattered at your adopting Ca'
* This Virgilian order of the poet should, I think, be disobeyed with respect to the song in question, the second stanza excepted. Note by Mr. Thomson.
Doctors differ. The objection to the second stanza does not strike the Editor.