Page images
PDF
EPUB

such as arranging wild-flowers in fantastical nosegays, tracing the grasshopper to his haunt by his chirping song, watching the frisks of the little minnows in the sunny pool, or hunting after the intrigues of butterflies--in short, send him adrift after some pursuit which shall eternally mislead him from the paths of lucre, and yet curse him with a keener relish than any man living for the pleasures that lucre can purchase; lastly, fill up the measure of his woes by bestowing on him a spurning sense of his own dignity-and you have created a wight nearly as miserable as a poet. To you, madam, I need not recount the fairy pleasures the Muse bestows, to counterbalance this catalogue of evils. Bewitching poetry is like bewitching woman : she has in all ages been accused of misleading mankind from the councils of wisdom and the paths of prudence, involving them in difficulties, baiting them with poverty, branding them with infamy, and plunging them in the whirling vortex of ruin; yet where is the man but must own that all our happiness on earth is not worthy the name—that even the holy hermit's solitary prospect of paradisiacal bliss is but the glitter of a northern sun rising over a frozen region-compared with the many pleasures, the nameless raptures, that we owe to the lovely queen of the heart of man !

R. B.

MR THOMSON TO BURNS.

EDINBURGH, 1st August 1793. DEAR SIR-I had the pleasure of receiving your last two letters, and am happy to find you are quite pleased with the appearance of the first book. When you come to hear the songs sung and accompanied, you will be charmed with them.

The Bonnie Brucket Lassie certainly deserves better verses, and I hope you will match her. Cauld Kail in Aberdeen, Let me in this ae Night, and several of the livelier airs, wait the Muse's leisure; these are peculiarly worthy of her choice gifts; besides, you'll notice that in airs of this sort the singer can always do greater justice to the poet than in the slower airs of The Bush aboon Traquair, Lord Gregory, and the like; for in the manner the latter were frequently sung, you must be contented with the sound without the sense. Indeed, both the airs and words are disguised by the very slow, languid, psalm-singing style in which they are too often performed ; they lose animation and expression altogether, and instead of speaking to the mind, or touching the heart, they cloy upon the ear, and set us a-yawning !1

Your ballad, There was a Lass, and she was Fair, is simple and beautiful, and shall undoubtedly grace my collection.2

· I am tempted out of my usual track to remark the justice of this criticism. The slowness with which a certain class of the Scottish airs are sung, is assuredly much to be regretted.

2 Mr Thomson had here added some verbal criticism, to which allusion was made in course by Burns.

PHILLIS THE FAIR.'

21

BURNS TO MR THOMSON,

August 1793. MY DEAR THOMSON—I hold the pen for our friend Clarke, who at present is studying the music of the spheres at my elbow. The Georgium Sidus he thinks is rather out of tune ; so until he rectify that matter, he cannot stoop to terrestrial affairs.

He sends you six of the rondeau subjects, and if more are wanted, he says you shall have them. Confound 1 your long stairs !

S. CLARKE.

BURNS TO MR THOMSON.

August 1793. Your objection, my dear sir, to the passages in my song of Logan Water, is right in one instance ; the phrase "cruel joys' is there improper ; but it is difficult to mend it: if I can, I will. The other passage you object to does not appear in the same light to me.

[Here Burns transcribed a song of six stanzas which he had just composed on the basis of an old song called, Let me in this ae Night. It is so much below the standard of his compositions of that class, that Currie had thought proper to leave it in the manuscript.]

I have tried my hand on Robin Adair, and, you will probably think, with little success ; but it is such a cursed, cramp, out-of-theway measure, that I despair of doing anything better to it.

PHILLIS THE FAIR.

TUNE-Robin Adair.

While larks with little wing

Fanned the pure air,
Tasting the breathing spring,

Forth I did fare:
Gay the sun's golden eye
Peeped o'er the mountains high;
Such thy morn! did I cry,

Phillis the fair.
In each bird's careless song,

Glad did I share;
While yon wild-flowers among,

Chance led me there :
Sweet to the opening day,
Rosebuds bent the dewy spray;
Such thy bloom ! did I say,

Phillis the fair.

1 So in Currie: in manuscript, a stronger word. The signature S. Clarke' ja ta Clarke's hand.

Down in a shady walk

Doves cooing were ;
I marked the cruel hawk

Caught in a snare :
So kind may fortune be,
Such make his destiny,
He who would injure thee,

Phillis the fair.

So much for namby-pamby. I may, after all, try my hand on it in Scots verse. There I always find myself most at home.

I have just put the last hand to the song I meant for Cauld Kail in Aberdeen. If it suits you to insert it, I shall be pleased, as the heroine is a favourite of mine : if not, I shall also be pleased ;. because I wish, and will be glad, to see you act decidedly on the business. 'Tis a tribute as a man of taste, and as an editor, which you owe yourself.

Burns is understood to have in Phi the Fair represented the tender feelings which Clarke entertained towards Miss Philadelphia M‘Murdo, one of his pupils. This lady afterwards became Mrs Norman Lockhart of Carnwath.

MR THOMSON TO BURNS.

August 1793. MY GOOD SIR-I consider it one of the most agreeable circumstances attending this publication of mine, that it has procured me so many of your much-valued epistles. Pray make my acknowledg. ments to St Stephen for the tunes : tell him I admit the justness of his complaint on my staircase, conveyed in his laconic postscript to your jeu d'esprit, which I perused more than once without discovering exactly whether your discussion was music, astronomy, or politics; though a sagacious friend, acquainted with the convivial habits of the poet and the musician, offered me a bet of two to one you were just drowning care together; that an empty bowl was the only thing that would deeply affect you, and the only matter you could then study how to remedy !

I shall be glad to see you give Robin Adair a Scottish dress. Peter is furnishing him with an English suit for a change, and you are well matched together. Robin's air is excellent, though he certainly has an out-of-the-way measure as ever poor Parnassian wight was plagued with. I wish you would invoke the Muse for a single elegant stanza, to be substituted for the concluding objectionable verses of Down the Burn, Davie, so that this most exquisite song may no longer be excluded from good company.

1 The song now usually called Puirtith Cauld.

[blocks in formation]

Mr Allan has made an inimitable drawing from your John Anderson my jo, which I am to have engraved as a frontispiece to the humorous class of songs : you will be quite charmed with it, I promise you. The old couple are seated by the fireside. Mrs Anderson, in great good-humour, is clapping John's shoulders, while he smiles and looks at her with such glee, as to shew that he fully recollects the pleasant days and nights when they were 'first acqnent.' The drawing would do honour to the pencil of Teniers.

BURNS TO MR THOMSON.

August 1793. THAT crinkum - crankum tune, Robin Adair, has run so in my head, and I succeeded so ill in my last attempt, that I have ventured, in this morning's walk, one essay more. You, my dear sir, will remember an unfortunate part of our worthy friend Cunningham's story, which happened about three years ago. That struck my fancy, and I endeavoured to do the idea justice as follows ::

HADIA CAVE.

TUNERobin Adair.

Had I a cave on some wild distant shore,
Where the winds howl to the waves' dashing roar;

There would I weep my woes,
There seek my lost repose,
Till grief my eyes should close,

Ne'er to wake more !

Falsest of womankind! canst thou declare,
All thy fond-plighted vows-fleeting as air !

To thy new lover hie,
Laugh o'er thy perjury;
Then in thy bosom try

What peace is there!

By the way, I have met with a musical Highlander in Breadalbane's Fencibles, which are quartered here, who assures me that he well remembers his mother singing Gaelic songs to both Robin Adair and Gramachree. They certainly have more of the Scotch than Irish taste in them.

This man comes from the vicinity of Inverness, so it could not be any intercourse with Ireland that could bring them ; except what I shrewdly suspect to be the case—the wandering minstrels, harpers, and pipers, used to go frequently errant through the wilds both of Scotland and Ireland, and so some favourite airs might be common to both. A case in point-they have lately, in Ireland, published an Irish air, as they say, called Caun du delish. The fact is, in a publication of Corri's a great while ago, you will find the same air, called a Highland one, with a Gaelic song set to it. Its name there, I think, is Oran Gaoil, and a fine air it is. Do ask honest Allan, or the Rev. Gaelic parson, about these matters.

Cunningham had wooed a young lady of many personal attractions; but, on another lover presenting himself, with some superior pretensions of an extrinsic character, she deserted the poet's friend with a degree of coolness which seems to have for the time excited great and general surprise.

BURNS TO MR THOMSON.

[19th] August 1793. MY DEAR SIR_Let me in this ae Night I will reconsider. I am glad that you are pleased with my song, Had I a Cave, &c. as I liked it myself.

I walked out yesterday evening with a volume of the Museum in my hand, when, turning up Allan Water, What Numbers shall the Muse repeat, &c. as the words appeared to me rather unworthy of so fine an air, and recollecting that it is on your list, I sat and raved under the shade of an old thorn, till I wrote one to suit the measure. I may be wrong, but I think it not in my worst style. You must know that in Ramsay's Tea-Table, where the modern song first appeared, the ancient name of the tune, Allan says, is Allan Water, or My Love Annie's very Bonnie. This last has certainly been a line of the original song ; so I took up the idea, and, as you will see, have introduced the line in its place, which I presume it formerly occupied; though I likewise give you a choosing line, if it should not hit the cut of your fancy:

BY ALLAN STREAM I CHANCED TO ROVE.

TUNE--Allan Water.

By Allan stream I chanced to rove,

While Phæbus sank beyond Benledi;
The winds were whispering through the grove,

The yellow corn was waving ready:
I listened to a lover's sang,

And thought on youthfu' pleasures mony;
And aye the wild-wood echoes rang-

Oh, dearly do I love thee, Annie!

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »