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up, mostly from the singing of country lasses. They please me vastly ; but your learned lugs* would perhaps be displeased with the very feature for which I like them. I call them simple; you would pronounce them silly. Do you know a fine air called Jackie Hume's Lament? I have a song of considerable merit to that air. I'll enclose you both the song and tune, as I had them ready to send to Johnson's Museum.t I send you likewise, to me, a beautiful little air, which I had taken down from viva voce. I
+ The song here mentioned is that given in No. XVIII. O ken ye what Meg o' the mill has gotten? This song is surely Mr. Burns's own writing, though he does not generally praise his own songs so much.
Note by Mr. Thomson.
The air here mentioned is that for which he wrote the ballad of Bonnie Jean, to be found p. 79.
No. No. XXII.
MR. BURNS to MR. THOMSON.
April, 1799. MY DEAR SIR,
I HAD scarcely put my last letter into the post office, when I took up the subject of The last time I came o'er the moor, and, ere I slept, drew the outlines of the foregoing. * How far I have succeeded, I leave on this, as on every other occasion, to you to decide. I own my vanity is flattered, when you give my songs a place in your elegant and superb work; but to be of service to the work is my first wish. As I have often told you, I do not in a single
instance wish you, out of compliment to me, * to insert any thing of mine. One hint let me
give you—whatever Mr. Pleyel does, let him not alter one iota of the original Scottish airs : I mean in the song department; but let our national music preserve its native features. They are, I own, frequently wild and irreducible to the more modern rules; but on that
very eccentricity, perhaps, depends a great part of their effect.
* The song alluded to here will be found in a subsequent part of this volume.
MR. THOMSON to Mr. BURNS.
Edinburgh, 26th April, 1793.
HEARTILY thank you, my dear Sir, for your last two letters, and the songs which accompanied them. I am always both instructed and entertained by your observations; and the frankness with which you speak out your mind, is to me highly agreeable. It is very possible I may not have the true idea of simplicity in composition. I confess there are several songs, of Allan Ramsay's for example, that I think silly enough, which another person, more conversant than I have been with country peo. ple, would perhaps call simple and natural. But the lowest scenes of simple nature will not please generally, if copied precisely as they
The poet, like the painter, must select what will form an agreeable as well as a natural picture. On this subject it were easy to enlarge ; but, at present, suffice it to say, that I consider simplicity, rightly understood, as a most essential quality in composition, and the ground-work of beauty in all the arts. I will gladly appropriate your most interesting new F2
ballad, When wild war's deadly blast, 8c. to the Mill mill O, as well as the two other songs to their respective airs; but the third and fourth lines of the first verse must undergo some little alteration in order to suit the music. Pleyel does not alter a single note of the songs. That would be absurd indeed! With the airs which he introduces into the sonatas, I allow him to take such liberties as he pleases; but that has nothing to do with the songs.
P.S. I wish you would do as you proposed with your Rigs of Barley. If the loose sentiments are threshed out of it, I will find an air for it; but as to this there is no hurry.
MR. BURNS to MR. THOMSON.
June, 1793. WHE
HEN I tell you, my dear Sir, that a friend of mine, in whom I am much interested, has fallen a sacrifice to these accursed times, you will easily allow that it might unhinge me for doing any good among ballads. My own loss, as to pecuniary matters, is trifling; but the total ruin of a much-loved friend, is a loss indeed. Pardon my seeming inattention to your last commands.
I cannot alter the disputed lines in the Mill mill 0.* What you think a defect, I esteem as a positive beauty; so you see how doctors
* The lines were the third and fourth. See p. 50.
“ Wi' mony a sweet babe fatherless,
And mony a widow mourning.”
As our poet had maintained a long silence, and the first