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I would be obliged to you if you would procure me a sight of Ritson's collection of English Songs, which you mention in your letter. I will thank you for another information, and that as speedily as you please: Whether this miserable drawling hotch-potch epistle has not completely tired you of my correspondence ?
Mr. THOMSON to Mr. BURNS.
Edinburgh, 27th October, 1794. I am sensible, my dear friend, that a genuine poet can no more exist without his mistress than his meat. I wish I knew the adorable she, whose bright eyes and witching smiles have so often enraptured the Scottish bard ! that I might drink her sweet health when the toast is going round. Craigie-burn-wood must certainly be adopted into my family, since she is the object of the song, but in the name of decency I must beg a new chorus verse from you. O to be lying beyond thee, dearie, is perhaps a consummation to be wished, but will not do for singing in the company of ladies. The songs in your last will do you lasting credit, and suit the respective airs charmingly. I am perfectly of your opinion, with respect to the additional airs. The idea of sending them into the world naked as they were born, was ungenerous. They must all be clothed and made decent by our friend Clarke.
I find I am anticipated by the friendly Cunningham in sending you Ritson's Scottish collection. Permit me, therefore, to present you with his English collection, which you will receive by the coach. I do not find his historical essay on Scottish song interesting. Your anecdotes and miscellaneous remarks will, I am sure, be much more
Allan has just sketched a charming design
from Maggie Lauder. She is dancing with such spirit as to electrify the piper, who seems almost dancing too, while he is playing with the most exquisite glee. I am much inclined to get a small copy, and to have it engraved in the style of Ritson's prints.
P. S. Pray what do your anecdotes say concern. ing Maggie Lauder ? was she a real personage, and of what rank? You would surely spier for her if you ca'd at Anstruther town.
Mr. BURNS to Mr. THOMSON.
November, 1794. Many thanks to you, my dear sir, for your present : it is a book of the utmost importance to me. I have yesterday begun my anecdotes, &c. for your work. I intend drawing it up in the form of a letter to you, which will save me from the tedious, dull business of systematic arrangement. Indeed, as all I have to say consists of unconnected remarks, anecdotes, scraps of old songs, &c. it would be impossible to give the work a beginning, a middle, and an end ; which the critics insist to be absolutely necessary in a work*. In my last, I told you my objection to the song you had sea lected for My lodging is on the cold ground. On my visit the other day to my fair Chloris (that is the poetic name of the lovely goddess of my inspiration) she suggested an idea, which I, in my return from the visit, wrought into the following song.
* It does not appear whether Burns completed these anecdotes, &c. Something of the kind (probably the rude draughts) was found amongst his papers. Vol. II.
My Chloris, mark how green the groves,
The primrose banks how fair : The balmy gales awake the flowers,
And wave thy flaxen hair,
The lav'rock shuns the palace gay,
And o'er the cottage sings :
To shepherds as to kings.
Let minstrels sweep the skilfu' string
In lordly lighte ha':
Blithe, in the birken shaw.
The princely revel may survey
Our rustic dance wi' scorn ;
Beneath the milk-white thorn?
The shepherd, in the flowery glen,
In shepherd's phrase will woo : The courtier tells a finer tale,
But is his heart as true?
These wild-wood flowers I've pu'd, to deck
That spotless breast o' thine :
But 'tis na love like mine.
How do you like the simplicity and tenderness this pastoral? I think it pretty well.
I like you for entering so candidly and so kindly into the story of Ma chere Amie. I assure you, I was never more in earnest in my life, than in the account of that affair which I sent you in my last, Conjugal love is a passion which I deeply feel, and bighly venerate;, but, somehow, it not make such a figure in poesy, as that other species
of the passiolle
* Where love is liberty, and Nature law."
Musically speaking, the first is an instrument of which the gamut is scanty and confined, but the tones inexpressibly sweet; while the last has powers equal to all the intellectual modulations of the human soul. Still, I am a very poet in my enthusiasm of the passion. The welfare and happiness of the beloved object, is the first and inviolate sentiment that pervades my soul; and whatever pleasures I might wish for, or whatever might be the raptures they would give me, yet, if they interfere with that first principle, it is having these pleasures at a dishonest price ; and justice forbids, and generosity disdains the purchase! * * *****
Despairing of my own powers to give you variety enough in English songs, I have been turning over old collections, to pick out songs of which the measure is something similar to what I want ; and, with a little alteration, so as to suit the rythm of the air exactly, to give you them for your work. Where the songs have hitherto been but little no. ticed, nor have ever been set to music, I think the shift a fair one. A song, which, under the same first verse, you will find in Ramsay's Tea-table Miscellany, I have cut down for an English dress to your “ Daintie Davie," as follows.
Altered from an old English ont.
It was the charming month of May,
The youthful, charming Chloe ;
From peaceful slumber she aroser
And o'er the flowery mead she goes,
The youthful, charming Chloe.
Lovely was she by the dawn,
Youthful Chloe, charming Chloe,
The youthful, charming Chloe.
The feather'd people you might see
They hail the charming Chloe ;
"Till, painting gay the eastern skies,
Lovely was she, c.
You may think meanly of this, but take a look at the bombast original, and you will be surprised that I have made so much of it. I have finished my song to Rothemurche's Rant; and you have Clarke to consult, as to the set of the air for singo ing.
LASSIE WI' THE LINT-WHITE LOCKS.
Tune-“ Rothemurche's Rant.".
Lassie wi' the lint-white locks,
Bonnie lassie, artless lassie,
Wilt thou be my dearie 0?