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SOCIAL BALLADS AND SONGS.
“ All hail, ye tender feelings dear !
The sympathetic glow!
Had it not been for you !
In every care and ill;
BURNS' Epistle to Davie.
UNDER this chapter I include that large group of lyrics to which the events or the affections of social life afford a subject. For the purpose of examination they may be advantageously arranged in three sub-divisions, comprehending severally (1), Love Songs and Ballads ; (2), Domestic Songs and Ballads; (3), those in which the more general relations of social life form the theme.
§ 1.—Love Songs and Ballads. It is almost impossible to embrace, in a brief sketch like this, a comprehensive survey of the innumerable lyrics coming under this category; but I shall endeavour to point out their leading varieties, with some of the more prominent characteristics of each.
There is, first of all, a whole legion which are merely utterances of amatory passion,—the unwearied twitterings of lovers in the sunshine which their passion gleams over life.
This literature, however, is very soon exhausted, as far as real variety is concerned, and therefore as far as it can furnish poetical enjoyment.' The most beautiful melody admits of only a limited number of variations with musical effect, even in the hands of the most ingenious composer ; and that effect soon fails, if many of the variations are produced by composers of mediocre musical power. For this reason it is scarcely advisable to enter into detailed examination of this class of songs; but for our purpose it is certainly worthy of remark, that a very large proportion of them are the work of persons in very humble grades of society. It is not that poets of higher rank have put into the mouths of imaginary peasants and artisans lyrical expressions of refined sentiment, such as we are familiar with in the antiquated pastorals; but we have the characteristically hearty and often naïve utterances of the peasants and artisans themselves. While this is evidence of a refining sexual affection penetrating the humble life of the people, the existence of such a mass of popular song on the subject has tended to perpetuate the refinement of this affection, and thus to counteract some less gratifying influences which we may yet require to notice.
The history of Scottish literature does not present many poets who have made the love of the sexes so cbviously their favourite theme, that they could, with propriety, be called Anacreontic. If we except Alexander Scott-a poet of Queen Mary's time, who has in fact been dubbed the Scottish Anacreon-there is perhaps not a single author who deserves the designation ; and Scott himself is to be ranked rather among the poets of culture than among those who have furnished the songs of the people. But no one possessing the most superficial acquaintance with Scottish literature requires to be informed as to the wealth of Anacreontic poetry which it contains. One of the oldest Scottish lyrics which have come down to us in complete form is a love-song-the Song on Absence, preserved in the Maitland MS., and ascribed by Pinkerton and Ritson, though without any certainty, to James I. of Scotland. Whoever the poet may have been, he was, for his time, ro unskilful handler of an intricate versification.
" As he that swimmis the moir he ettil fast,
And to the schoire intend,
So wars by day
The moir I sturte.
“ The Day, befoir the suddane Nichtis chaice,
With speid is careit so;
I See Sibbald's “ Chronicle of Scottish Poetry," vol. i. p. 55.
As I with paine
Rin to the deid.
The old poet, moreover, was one with the soul of the true singer, who uses the measured language of verse as the natural outlet of his emotions, and finds a solace in "the sad mechanic exercise."
“He that can plaine
Dois thoil leist paine.
But playnt that smartis.
From this early song-writer down to those of recent times, the Scottish poets seem to move in their natural element when they enter upon the subject of love. The greatest of them is but the mouthpiece of all, when, referring to his Jean, he describes her influence upon his verse :
“Oh how that name inspires my style!
Amaist before I ken !
Were glowrin' owre my pen." Burns has expressed several emotions with a happiness of fancy and language which seems to proclaim that they have found their perfect utterance. This may be said of the lyrical expression he has given to those delicious emotions which men owe to the influence of woman; and this lyric has so woven itself into his countrymen's habits of thought, that a Scotchman, expressing himself on the subject, almost instinctively adopts the language of Burns :
“Green grow the rashes, O,
Green grow the rashes, O;
Were spent amang the lasses, O.
“There's nought but care on every hand
In every hour that passes, O;
An 'twere na for the lasses, O!
"Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes, O ;
And then she made the lasses, O."
Passing from those love-lyrics which are merely expressions of vague sexual affection, we come to those in which there is a love-story more or less explicitly told, in some with a tragic, in others with a comic issue. In the former the pathos varies of course with the nature of its cause, from the bitterness of a disappointment in love to the anguish arising from the death of one who is loved. To anyone familiar with Scottish songs, not a few will readily occur in which the pathos is expressed with irresistible
power. Among those with the most tragic issue, much