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MR. BURNS to MR. THOMSON,
January, 1795. I FEAR for my songs ; however, a few may please, yet originality is a coy feature in composition, and in a multiplicity of efforts in the same style, disappears altogether. For these three thousand years, we, poetic folks, have been describing the spring, for instance; and as the spring continues the same, there must soon be a sameness in the imagery, &c. of these said rhyming folks.
A great critic, Aikin, on songs, says, that love and wine are the exclusive themes for songwriting. The following is on neither subject, and consequently is no song ; but will be allowed, I think, to be two or three pretty good prose thoughts inverted into rhyme.
FOR FOR A' THAT AND A' THAT.
Is there, for honest poverty,
That hangs his head, and a' that;
We dare be poor for a' that!
Our toil's obscure, and a' that, The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that.
What tho' on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, and a' that; Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man's a man for a' that ;
Their tinsel show, and a' that;
Is king o' men for a' that,
Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, and stares, and a' that; Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that: For a' that, and a' that,
His riband, star, and a' that, The man of independent mind, He looks and laughs at a' that.
A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, and a' that;
Guid faith he mauna fa' that!
Their dignities, and a' that,
Are higher ranks than a' that.
Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a' that,
May bear the gree, and a' that. 1,
It's coming yet, for a' that, That man to man, the warld o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.
I do not give you the foregoing song for your book, but merely by way of vive la bagatelle ; for the piece is not really poetry. How will the following do for Craigie-burn-wood ?
SWEET fa's the eve on Craigie-burn,
And blithe awakes the morrow,
Can yield me nocht but sorrow.
I see the flowers and spreading trees,
I hear the wild birds singing ;
And care his bosom wringing.
Fain, fain would I my griefs impart,
Yet dare na for your anger ;
If I conceal it langer.
If thou refuse to pity me,
If thou shalt love anither,
Farewell! God bless
* Craigie-burn-wood is situated on the banks of the river Moffat, and about three miles distant from the village of that name, celebrated for its medicinal waters. The woods of Craigie-burn and of Dumcrief, were at one time favourite haunts of our poet.
It was there he met the “ Lassie wi' the lint-white locks," and that he conceived several of his beautiful lyrics.
MR. THOMSON to Mr. BURNS.
Edinburgh, 30th Jan. 1795.
MY DEAR SIR,
I THANK you heartily for Nanie's awa, as well as for Craigie-burn, which I think a very comely pair. Your observation on the difficulty of original writing in a number of efforts, in the same style, strikes me very forcibly; and it has again and again excited my wonder to find you continually surmounting this difficulty, in the many delightful songs you have sent me. Your vive la bagatelle song, For a' that, shall undoubtedly be included in my list.