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Now. for my English song to Nancy's to the Greenwood, &c.
FAREWELL thou stream that winding flows
Around Eliza's dwelling !
Within my bosom swelling:
And yet in secret languish, To feel a fire in ev'ry vein,
Nor dare disclose my anguish.
Love's veriest wretch, unseen, unknown,
I fain my griefs would cover :
Betray the hapless lover.
Nor wilt, nor canst relieve me;
For pity's sake forgive me!
The music of thy voice I heard
Nor wist while it enslav'd me;
Till fears no more had sav'd me:
The wheeling torrent viewing;
There is an air, The Caledonian Hunt's Delight, to which I wrote a song that you will find in Johnson. Ye banks and braes o bonnie Doon; this air, I think, might find a place among your hundred, as Lear says of his knights. Do you know the history of the air ? It is curious enough. A good many years ago, Mr. James Miller, writer in your good town, a gentleman whom possibly you know, was in
with our friend Clarke; and talking of Scottish music, Miller expressed an ardent ambition to be able to compose a Scots air. Mr. Clarke, partly by way of joke, told him to keep to the black keys of the harpsichord, and preserve some kind of rhythm ; and he would infallibly compose a Scots air.
Certain it is that, in a few days, Mr. Miller produced the rudiments of an air, which Mr. Clarke, with some touches and corrections, fashioned into the tune in question. Ritson, you know, has the same story of the Black Keys; but this account which I have just given you, Mr. Clarke informed me of several years ago. Now to shew you how difficult it is to trace the origin of our airs, I have heard it repeatedly asserted that this was an Irish air ; nay, I met with an Irish gentleman who affirmed he had heard it in Ireland among the old women; while, on the other hand, a Countess informed me, that the first person who introduced the air into this country, was a baronet's lady of her acquaintance, who took down the notes from an
itinerant piper in the Isle of Man. How difficult then to ascertain the truth respecting our poesy and music! I, myself, have lately seen a couple of ballads sung through the streets of Dumfries, with my name at the head of them as the author, though it was the first time I had ever seen them.
I thank you for admitting Craigie-burn-wood; and I shall take care to furnish you with a new chorus. In fact, the chorus was not my work, but a part of some old verses to the air. If I can catch myself in a more than ordinarily propitious moment, I shall write a new Craigie-burn-wood altogether. My heart is much in the theme.
I am ashamed, my dear fellow, to make the re- , quest; 'tis dunning your generosity; but in a moment, when I had forgotten whether I was rich or poor, I promised Chloris a copy of your songs. It wrings my honest pride to write you this: but an ungracious request is doubly so by a tedious apology. To make you some amends, as soon as I have extracted the necessary information out of them, I will return you Ritson's volumes.
The lady is not a little proud that she is to make so distinguished a figure in your collection, and I am not a little proud that I have it in my power to please her so much. Lucky it is for your patience that my paper is done, for when I am in a scribbling humour, I know not when to give over.
MR. THOMSON to MR. BURNS.
15th November, 1794. MY GOOD SIR,
SINCE receiving your last, I have had another interview with Mr. Clarke, and a long consultation. He thinks the Caledonian Hunt is more Bacchanalian than amorous in its nature, and recommends it to you to match the air accordingly. Pray did it ever occur to you
how peculiarly well the Scottish airs are adapted for verses in the form of a dialogue? The first part of the air is generally low, and suited for a man's voice, and the second
instances cannot be sung, at concert pitch, but by a female voice. A A song thus performed makes an agreeable variety, but few of ours are written in this form : I wish you would think of it in some of those that remain. The only one of the kind you have sent me is admirable, and will be an universal favourite.
Your verses for Rothemurche are so sweetly pastoral, and your serenade to Chloris, for Deil tak the Wars, so passionately tender, that I have sung myself into raptures with them. Your song for My lodging is on the cold ground, is likewise a diamond of the first water; I am quite dazzled and delighted by it. Some of your Chlorises I suppose have flaxen hair, from your partiality for this colour; else we differ about it; for I should scarcely conceive a woman to be a beauty, on reading that she had lint-white locks !
Farewell thou stream that winding flows, I think excellent, but it is much too serious to come after Nancy : at least it would seem an incongruity to provide the same air with merry Scottish and melancholy English verses ! The more that the two sets of verses resemble each other in their general character, the better. Those you have manufactured for Dainty Davie will answer charmingly. I am happy to find you have begun your anecdotes : I care not how long they be, for it is impossible that any thing from your pen can be tedious. Let me beseech you not to use ceremony in telling me when you wish to present any of your friends with the songs: the next carrier will bring you three copies, and you are as welcome to twenty as to a pinch of snuff.