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THE following pages contain the correspoti. dence between Mr. Burns and Mr. Thomson, on the subject of the beautiful work projected and executed by the latter, the nature of which is explained in the first number of the following series*. The undertaking of Mr. Thomson, is one on which the public may be congratulated in various points of view; not inerely as having collected the finest of the Scottish songs and airs of past times, but as having given occasion to a number of original songs of our bard, wbich equal or surpass the former efforts of the pastoral muses of Scotland, and which, if we mistake not, may be safely compared with the lyric poetry of any age or country.
The letters of Mr. Burns to Mr. Thomson include the songs he presented to him, some of which appear in different stages of their progress, and these letters will be found to exhibit occasionally his notions of song-writing, and his opinions on various subjects of taste and criticism. These opinions, it will be observed, were called forth by the observations of his correspondent, Mr. Thomson; and without the letters of this gentleman, those of Burns would have been often
This work is entitled, “ A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the voice ; to which are added, introductory and concluding Symphonies and Accompaniments for the Piano Forte and Violin, by Pleyel and Kozeluch. With select and characteristic Verses, by the most admired Scottish Poets, 6°C.-London, printed and sold by Preston, No. 97, Strand."
unintelligible. He has, therefore, yielded to the earnest request of the trustees of the family of the poet, to suffer them to appear in their natural order; and, independently of the illustration they give to the letters of our bard, it is not to be doubted that their intrinsic merit will ensure them a reception from the public, far beyond what Mr. Thomson's modesty would permit him to suppose, The whole of this correspondence was arranged for the press by Mr. Thomson, and has been printed with little addition or variation.
Mr. THOMPSON to Mr. BURNS.
Edinburgh, September, 1792. FOR some years past, I have, with a friend or two, employed many leisure hours in selecting and collating the most favourite of our national melodies for publication. We have engaged Pleyel, the most agreeable composer living, to put accompå. niments to these, aud also to compose an instrumental prelude and conclusion to each air, the better to fit them for concerts, both public and private, To render this work perfect, we are desir. ous to have the poetry improved, whenever it seems unworthy of the music ; and that it is so in many instances, is allowed by every one conversant with our musical collections. The editors of these seem in general to have depended on the music proving an excuse for the verses; and hence, some charming melodies are united to mere nonsense and doggrel, while others are accommodated with rhymes so loose and indelicate, as cannot be sung in decent company. To remove this reproach, would be an easy task to the author of The Cotter's Saturday Night; and, for the honour of Caledonia, I would fain hope he may be induced to take up the pen. If so, we shall be enabled to present the public with a collection, infinitely more interesting than any that has yet appeared, and acceptable to all persons of taste, whether they wish for correct me. lodies, "delicate accompaniments, or characteristic verses.-We will esteem your poetical assistance a particular favour, besides paying any reasonable price you shall please to demand for it. Profit is quite a secondary consideration with us, and we are resolved to spare neither pains nor expense on the publication. Tell me frankly then, whether you will devote your leisure to writing twenty or twenty-five songs, suited to the particular melodies which I am prepared to send you. A few songs, exceptionable only in some of their verses, I will likewise submit to your consideration : leav. ing it to you, either to mend these, or make new songs in their stead. It is superfluous to assure you, that I have no intention to displace any of the sterling old songs; those only will be removed, which appear quite silly, or absolutely indecent. Even these shall all be examined by Mr. Burns, and if he is of opinion that any of them are deserving of the music, in such cases, no divorce shall take place.
Relying on the letter accompanying this, to be forgiven, for the liberty I have taken in addressing you, I am, with great esteem, sir, your most obedient humble servant,
Mr. BURNS to Mr. THOMSON,
Dumfries, 16th Sept. 1792. I have just this moment got your letter. As the request you make to me, will positively add to my enjoyments in complying with it, I shall enter into your undertaking with all the small portion of abilities I have, strained to their utmost exertion by the impulse of enthusiasm. Only, don't hurry me: “Deil tak the hindmost” is by no means the cri de guerre of my muse. Will you, as I am inferior to none of you in enthusiastic attachment
to the poetry and music of old Caledonia, and, since you request it, have cheerfully promised my mite of assistance-will you let me have a list of your airs, with the first line of the printed verses you intend for them, that I may have an opportunity of suggesting any alteration that may occur to me. You know 'tis in the way of my trade ; still leaving you, gentlemen, the undoubted right of publishers, to approve, or reject, at your pleasure, for your own publication. Apropos, if you are for English verses, there is, on my part, an end of the matter. Whether in the simplicity of the ballad, or the pathos of the song, I can only hope to please myself in being allowed at least a sprinkling of our native tongue. English verses, particularly the works of Scotsmen, that have merit, are certainly very eligible. Tweeitside; Ah! the poor shepherd's mournful fate ; Ah! Chloris could I now but sit, &c. you cannot mend: but such insipid stuff as, To Fanny fair could I impart, &c. usually set to The Mill Mill O, is a disgrace to the collections, in which it has already appeared, and would doubly disgrace a collection that will have the very superior merit of yours. But more of this, in the farther prosecution of the business, if I am called on for my strictures and amend. ments-I say, amendments ; for I will not alter except where I myself at least, think that I amend.
As to any remuneration, you may think my songs either above or below pricc; 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 of the season,
“Gude speed the wark !”
R. BURNS. P.S. I have some particular reasons for wish. ing my interference to be known as little as poss wible.