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ago, which I think * * but in its original state is not quite a lady's song. I enclose an altered, not amended copy
you, if you choose to set the tune to it, and let the Irish verses follow.*
Mr. Erskine's songs are all pretty, but his Lone Vale is divine.
Let me know just how you like these random hints.
* Mr. Thomson, it appears, did not approve of this song, even in its altered state. It does not appear in the correspondence ; but it is probably one to be found in his MSS. beginning,
« Yestreen I got a pint of wine,
A place where body saw na;
The gowden locks of Anna."
It is highly characteristic of our Bard, but the strain of sentiment does not correspond with the air to which he proposes it should be allied.
No. .No. XX.
MR. THOMSON to MR. BURNS.
, 1793. I REJOICE to find, my dear Sir, that ballad-making continues to be your hobby-horse. Great pity 'twould be, were it otherwise. I hope you will amble it away for many a year, and “ witch the world with your horsemanship.”
I know there are a good many lively songs of merit that I have not put down in the list sent you ; but I have them all in my eye. My Patie is a lover gay, though a little unequal, is a natural and very pleasing song, and I humbly think we ought not to displace or alter it, except the last stanza.*
* The original letter from Mr. Thomson contains many observations on the Scottish songs, and on the manner of adapting the words to the music, which, at his desire, are suppressed. The subsequent letter of Mr. Burns refers to several of these observations.
MR. BURNS to MR. THOMSON.
April, 1793. I have yours, my dear Sir, this moment. I shall answer it and your former letter, in my desultory way of saying whatever comes uppermost.
The business of many of our tunes wanting, at the beginning, what fiddlers call a startingnote, is often a rub to us poor rhymers.
“ There's braw, braw lads on Yarrow braes,
That wander thro' the blooming heather,"
you may alter to
“ Braw, braw lads on Yarrow braes,
Ye wander, &c."
My song, Here awa, there awa, as amended by Mr. Erskine, I entirely approve of, and return
The reader has already seen that Burns did not finally adopt all of Mr. Erskine's alterations.
Give me leave to criticise your taste in the only thing in which it is in my opinion reprehensible. You know I ought to know something of my own trade. Of pathos, sentiment, and point, you are a complete judge; but there is a quality more necessary than either, in a song, and which is the very essence of a ballad, I mean simplicity: now, if I mistake not, this last feature you are a little apt to sacrifice to the foregoing.
Ramsay, as every other poet, has not been always equally happy in his pieces; still I cannot approve of taking such liberties with an author as Mr.W. proposes doing with The last time I came o'er the moor. Let a poet, if he chooses, take up the idea of another, and work it into a piece of his own; but to mangle the works of the poor bard, whose tuneful tongue is now mute for ever, in the dark and narrow house; by heaven 'twould be sacrilege! I grant that Mr. W.'s version is an improvement; but I know Mr. W. well, and esteem him much; let him mend the song, as the Highlander mended his gun; he gave it a new stock, a new lock, and a new barrel.
I do not by this object to leaving out improper stanzas, where that can be done without spoiling the whole. One stanza in The Lass o' Patie's Mill must be left out: the song will be nothing worse for it. I am not sure if we can
take the same liberty with Corn rigs are bonnie. Perhaps it might want the last stanza, and be the better for it. Cauld kail in Aberdeen
must leave with me yet a while. I have vowed to have a song to that air, on the lady whom I attempted to celebrate in the verses, Poortith cauld and restless love. At any rate my other song, Green grow the rashes, will never suit. That song is current in Scotland under the old title, and to the merry old tune of that name, which of course would mar the progress of your song to celebrity. Your book will be the standard of Scots songs for the future: let this idea ever keep your judgment on the alarm.
I send a song, on a celebrated toast in this country, to suit Bonnie Dundee. I send you also a ballad to the Mill mill 0.*
The last time I came o'er the moor, I would fain attempt to make a Scots song for, and let Ramsay's be the English set. You shall hear from me soon. When you go to London on this business, can you come by Dumfries ? I have still several MSS. Scots airs by me which I have pickt
* The song to the tune of Bonnie Dundee, is that in No. XVI. The ballad to the Mill mill O is that beginning,
“ When wild war's deadly blasts are blawn.” E.