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As to any remuneration, you may think my songs either above or below price; for they shall absolutely be the one or the other. In the honest enthusiasm with which I embark in your undertaking, to talk of money, wages, fee, hire, &c., would be downright prostitution of soul! A proof of each of the songs that I compose or amend, I shall receive as a favour. In the rustic phrase
“ Gude speed the wark!"
of the season,
P.S. I have some particular reasons for wishing my interference to be known as little as possible,
MR. THOMSON to Mr. BURNS.
Edinburgh, 13th Oct. 1792.
I RECEIVED, with much satisfaction, your pleasant and obliging letter, and I return my warmest acknowledgments for the enthusiasm with which you have entered into our undertaking. We have now no doubt of being able to
produce a collection highly deserving of public attention in all respects.
I agree with you in thinking English verses that have merit, very eligible, wherever new verses are necessary; because the English becomes every year more and more the language of Scotland; but if you mean that no English verses, except those by Scottish authors, ought to be admitted, I am half inclined to differ from you. I should consider it unpardonable to sacrifice one good song in the Scottish dialect, to make room for English verses; but, if we can select a few excellent ones suited to the unprovided or ill-provided airs, would it not be the very bigotry of literary patriotism to reject such, merely because the authors were born south of the Tweed ? Our sweet air, My Nanie 0, which in the collections is joined to the poorest stuff that Allan Ramsay ever wrote, beginning, While some for pleasure pawn their health, answers so finely to Dr. Percy's beautiful song, O Nancy wilt thou go with me, that one would think he wrote it on purpose for the air. However, it is not at all our wish to confine you to English verses; you shall freely be allowed a sprinkling of your native tongue, as you elegant. iy express it; and moreover, we will patiently wait your own time. One thing only I beg, which is, that however gay and sportive the muse
may be, she may always be decent. Let her not write what beauty would blush to speak, nor wound that charming delicacy which forms the most precious dowry of our daughters. I do not conceive the song to be the most proper vehicle for witty and brilliant conceits; simplicity, I believe, should be its prominent feature; but, in some of our songs, the writers have confounded simplicity with coarseness and vulgarity; although between the one and the other, as Dr. Beattie well observes, there is as great a difference as between a plain suit of clothes and a bundle of rags. The humorous ballad, or pathetic complaint, is best suited to our artless melodies; and more interesting, indeed, in all songs, than the most pointed wit, dazzling descriptions, and flowery fancies.
With these trite observations, I send you
I eleven of the songs, for which it is my wish to substitute others of your writing. I shall soon transmit the rest, and, at the same time, a prospectus of the whole collection: and you may believe we will receive any hints that you are so kind as to give for improving the work, with the greatest pleasure and thankfulness.
I remain, dear Sir, &c.
No. No. IV.
Mr. BURNS to MR. THOMSON.
MY DEAR SIR,
Let me tell
you are too fastidious in your ideas of songs and ballads. I own that your criticisms are just; the songs you specify in your list have all but one the faults you remark in them; but who shall mend the matter? Who shall rise up and say-Go to, I will make a better? For instance, on reading over the Lea-rig, I immediately set about trying my hand on it, and, after all, I could make nothing more of it than the following, which Heaven knows is poor enough:
When o'er the hill the eastern star,
Tells bughtin-time is near, my jo;
Return sae dowf and weary 0;
Wi’ dew are hanging clear, my jo,
My ain kind dearie O.
* For “ scented birks," in some copies, “ birken buds."
In mirkest glen, at midnight hour,
I'd rove, and ne'er be eerie 0,
My ain kind dearie O.
And I were ne'er sae wearie 0,
My ain kind dearie 0.
In the copy transmitted to Mr. Thomson, instead of wild, was inserted wet. But in one of the manuscripts, probably written afterwards, wet was changed into wild; evidently a great improvement. The lovers might meet on the lea-rig," although the night were ne'er so wild," that is, although the summer-wind blew, the sky lowered, and the thunder murmured : such circumstances might render their meeting still more interesting. But if the night were actually wet, why should they meet on the lea-rig? On a wet night the imagination cannot contemplate their situation there with any complacency.—Tibullus, and after him Hammond, has conceived a happier situation for lovers on a wet night. Probably Burns had in his mind the verse of an old Scottish Song, in which wet and weary are naturally enough conjoined.
" When my ploughman comes hame at ev'n,
He's often wet and weary;
And gae to bed, my deary."