« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
your thoughts upon dramatic writing? That is a field worthy of your genius, in which it might shine forth in all its splendour. One or two successful pieces upon the London stage would make your fortune. The rage at present is for musical dramas : few or none of those which have appeared since the Duenna, possess much poetical merit : therc is little in the conduct of the fable, or in the dialogue, to interest the audience. They are chiefly vehicles for music and pageantry. I think you might produce a comic opera in three acts, which would live by the poetry, at the same time that it would be proper to take every assistance from her tuneful sister.
Part of the songs of course would be to our favourite Scottish airs; the rest might be left to the London composer Storace for Drury Lane, or Shield for Covent Garden; both of them very able and popular musicians. I believe that interest and maneuvering are often necessary to have a drama brought on : so it may be with the namby pamby tribe of flow. ery scribblers ; but were you to address Mr. Sheridan himself, by letter, and send him a dramatic piece, I am persuaded he would, for the honour of genius, give it a fair and candid trial. Excuse me for obtruding these hints upon your consideration*.
Mr. THOMSON to Mr. BURNS.
Edinburgh, 14th October, 1794. The last eight days have been devoted to the re-examinations of the Scottish collections. I have read, and sung, and fiddled, and considered, till I
* Our bard had before received the same advice, and certainly took it so far into consideration, as to have cast about for a subject. E.
am half blind and wholly stupid. The few airs I have added are inclosed.
Peter Pindar has at length sent me all the songs I expected from him, which are in general elegant and beautiful. Have you heard of a London collection of Scottish airs and songs, just published by Mr. Ritson, an Englishman ?
I shall send you a copy. His introductory essay on the subject is curious, and evinces great reading and research, but does not decide the question as to the origin of our melodies ; though he shows clearly that Mr. Tytler, in his ingenious dissertation, has adduced no sort of proof of the hypothesis he wished to establish; and that his classification of the airs according to the æras when they were composed, is mere fancy and conjecture. On John Pinkerton, esq. he has no mercy; but consigns him to damnation ! He snarls at my publication, on the score of Pindar being engaged to write songs for it ; uncandidly and unjustly leaving it to be inferred, that the songs of Scottish writers had been sent a packing to make room for Peter's ! Of you he speaks with some respect, but gives you a passing hit or two for daring to dress up a little, some old foolish songs for the Museum. His sets of the Scottish airs are taken, he says, from the oldest collections and best authorities : many of them, however, have such a strange aspect, and are so unlike the sets which are sung by every person of taste, old or young, in town or country, that we can scarcely recognize the fea. tures of our favourites. By going to the oldest collections of our music, it does not follow that we find the melodies in their original state. These melodies had been preserved, we know, not how long, by oral communication, before being collected and printed : and as different persons sing the same air very differently, according to their accurate or confused recollection of it, so even supposing the first collectors to have possessed the industry, the taste and discernment to chuse the best they could hear (which is far from certain),
still it must evidently be a chance, whether the collections exhibit any of the melodies in the state they were first composed. In selecting the melodies for my own collection, I have been as much guided by the living as by the dead. Where these differed, I preferred the sets that appeared to me the most simple and beautiful, and the most generally approved : and without meaning any compliment to my own capability of chusing, or speaking of the pains I have taken, I flatter myself that my sets will be found equally freed from vulgar errors on the one hand, and affected graces on the other,
Mr. BURNS to Mr. 'THOMSON.
My dear friend,
19th October, 1794. By this morning's post I have your list, and, in general, I highly approve of it. I shall, at more leisure, give you a critique on the whole. Clarke goes to your town by to-day's fly, and I wish you would call on him and take his opinion in general : you know his taste is a standard. He will return here again in a week or two; so, please do not miss asking for him One thing I hope he will do, persuade you to adopt my favourite, Craigie. burn-wood, in your selection: it is as great a favourite of his as of mine. The lady on whom it was made, is one of the finest women in Scotland ; and in fact (entre nous) is in a manner to me what Sterne's Eliza was to him-a mistress, or friend, or what you will, in the guileless simplicity of Platonic love. (Now don't put any of your squinting constructions on this, or have any clishmaclaver about it among our acquaintances.) I assure you that to my lovely friend you indebted for ma. ny of your best songs of mine. Do you think that the sober gin-horse routine of existence
could inspire a man with life, and love, and joycould fire him with enthusiasm, or melt him with pathos, equal to the genius of your book ?-no ! no!-Whenever I want to be more than ordinary in song ; to be in some degree equal to your djviner airs ; do you imagine I fast and pray for the celestial emanation ? Tout au contraire ! 1 have a glorious recipe ; the very one, that, for his own use, was invented by the divinity of healing and poetry, when erst he piped to the flocks of Admetus. I put myself in a regimen of admiring a fine woman; and in proportion to the adorability of her charms, in proportion you are delighted with my verses. The lightning of her eye is the godhead of Parnassus, and the witchery of her smile, the divinity of Helicon !
To descend to business; if you like my idea of When she cam ben she bobbit, the following stanzas of mine, altered a little from what they were formerly when set to another air, may perhaps do instead of worse stanzas.
SAW YE MY PHELY.
(Quasi dicat Phillis.)
Tune" When she cam ben she bobbit.”
O saw ye my dear, my Phely?
She winna come hame to her Willy.
What says she, my dearest, my Phely?
And for ever disowns thee her Willy.
O had I ne'er seen thee, my Phely!
Thou's broken the heart o' thy Willy.
Now for a few miscellaneous remarks. The Posie (in the Museum) is my composition; the air was taken down from Mrs. Burns' voice*. It is well known in the west country, but the old words are trash. By the bye, take a look at the tune again, and tell me if you do not think it is the original from which Roslin Castle is composed, The second part, in particular, for the first two or three bars, is exactly the old air. Strathallan's Lament is mine: the music is by our right trusty and deservedly well-beloved Allan Masterton. Donochthead is not mine: I would give ten pounds it were. It appeared first in the Edinburgh Herald ; and came to the editor of that paper with the Newcastle post-mark on itt. Whistle o'er the lave
* The Posie will be found afterwards. This, and the other poems of which he speaks, had appeared in Johnson's Museum, and Mr. T. had enquired whether they were our bard's. E.
+ The reader will be curious to see this poem, so highly praised by Burns. Here it is :
Keen blaws the wind o'er Donocht-head, (a)
The snaw drives snelly thro' the dale,
And shivering tells his waefu' tale.
And dinna let your minstrel fa',
Be naething but a wreath oʻsnaw
" Full ninety winters hae I seen,
And pip'd where gor-cocks whirring flew,
To lilts which from my drone I blew."
'Get up, gudeman, and let him in;
Was short when he began his din.'
(a) A mountain in the north. E.