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BURNS'S WALKS AT DUMFRIES.
Oh, happy be the woodbine bower,
Nae nightly bogle make it eerie;
The place and time I met my dearie!
She, sinking, said, “I'm thine for ever!'
The sacred vow, we noor should sever.
The Simmer joys the flocks to follow;
Is Autumn, in her weeds o' yellow!
Or chain the soul in speechless pleasure ?
Like meeting her, our bosom’s treasure ? Bravo! say I; it is a good song. Should you think so too (not else), you can set the music to it, and let the other follow as English verses.
Autumn is my propitious season. I make more verses in it than all the year else. God bless you!!
BURNS TO MR THOMSON.
August 1793. You may readily trust, my dear sir, that any exertion in my power is heartily at your service. But one thing I must hint to you: the very name of Peter Pindar is of great service to your publication; so get a verse from him now and then, though I have no objection, as well as I can, to bear the burden of the business.2
Is Whistle, and I'll come to you, my Lad, one of your airs ? I admire it much, and yesterday I set the following verses to it. Urbani, whom I have met with here, begged them of me, as he admires the air much; but as I understand that he looks with rather an evil eye on your work, I did not choose to comply. However, if the song does not suit your taste, I may possibly send it him. He is, entre nous, a narrow, contracted creature; but he sings so delightfully, that what
1. While he lived in Dumfries, he had three favourite walks: ko the Dock-Green by the river-side-among the ruins of Lincluden College-and towards the Martingdon-ford, on the north side of the Nith. This latter place was secluded, commanded a view of the distant hills, and the romantic towers of Lincluden, and afforded soft greensward banks to rest upon, and the sight and sound of the stream. Here he composed many of his finest songs. As soon as he was heard to hum to himself, his wife saw that he had something in his mind, and was prepared to see him snatch up his hat, and set silently off for his musing-ground. Ween by himself, and in the open air, his ideas arranged themselves in their natural order-words came at will, and he seldom returned without having finished a song. In case of interruption, he set about completing it at the fireside; he balanced himself on the hind-legs of his arm-chair, and rocking to and fro, continued to hum the tune, and seldom failed of success. When the verses were finished, he passed them through the ordeal of Mrs Burns's voice; listened attentively when she sang; asked her if any of the words were difficult; and when one happened to be too rough, he readily found a smoother-but he never, save at the resolute entreaty of a scientific musician, sacrificed sense to sound. The autumn was his favourite season, and tho twilight his favourite hour of study.'-A. Cunningham.
2 Dr Currie has transferred this paragraph from the present, its proper place, to the head of a subsequent letter.
introduces at your concert must have immediate celebrity. The set of the air which I had in my eye is in Johnson's Museum.
WHISTLE, AND I'LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD.
TUNE-Whistle, and I'll come to you, my Lad.
For fear that she wile your fancy frae me.1
: that I have endeavoured to supply as follows :
DOWN WINDING NITH I DID WANDER.
TUNE-The Mucking o' Geordie's Byre.
To mark the sweet flowers as they spring ;
Of Phillis to muse and to sing.
Awa wi' your belles and your beauties,
They never wi' her can compare :
Has met wi’ the queen o' the fair.
1 The two first stanzas of this song bad appeared in the second yolume of the Scots Musical Museum
The daisy amused my fond fancy,
So artless, so simple, so wild ;
For she is simplicity's child.
Her sweet balmy lip when 'tis prest:
But fairer and purer her breast.
They ne'er wi' my Phillis can vie:
Its dew-drop o? diamond her eye.
That wakes through the green-spreading grove,
On music, and pleasure, and love.
The bloom of a fine summer's day!
Mr Clarke begs you to give Miss Phillis a corner in your book, as she is a particular flame of his. She is a Miss Phillis M‘Murdo, sister to 'Bonnie Jean. They are both pupils of his. You shall hear from me the very first grist I get from my rhyming-mill.
A modern reader will be surprised by the terms in which Burns speaks of Peter Pindar, whose works are now condemned to oblivion. He certainly was a remarkable example of the extent to which moderate abilities, exerted in subserviency to popular prejudices, and with a ribald recklessness towards all true taste in literature, will carry their possessor on the way to what appears for the time literary distinction. It must ever be a humiliating consideration that this modern Aretin was richly pensioned by the booksellers, while Burns, the true sweet singer, lived in comparative poverty.
BURNS TO MR THOMSON.
[28th] August 1793. THAT tune, Cauld Kail, is such a favourite of yours, that I once more roved out yesterday for a gloamin-shot at the Muses ;1 when
i Gloamin, twilight-probably from glooming. A beautiful poetic word, which ought to be adopted in England. A gloamin-shot, a twilight interview.-CURRIE,
the Muse that presides o'er the shores of Nith, or rather my old inspiring dearest nymph, Coila, whispered me the following. I have two reasons for thinking that it was my early, sweet simple inspirer that was by my elbow, smooth gliding without step,' and pouring the song on my glowing fancy. In the first place, since I left Coila's native haunts, not a fragment of a poet has arisen to cheer her solitary musings, by catching inspiration from her, so I more than suspect that she has followed me hither, or at least makes me occasional visits ; secondly, the last stanza of this song I send you is the very words that Coila taught me many years ago, and which I set to an old Scots reel in Johnson's Museum.
COME, LET ME TAKE THEE TO MY BREAST.
And pledge we ne'er shall sunder ;
The warld's wealth and grandeur :
That equal transports move her ?
That I may live to love her.
I clasp my countless treasure;
Than sic a moment's pleasure :
I swear I'm thine for ever!
And break it shall I never ! If you think the above will suit your idea of your favourite air, I shall be highly pleased. The last time I came o'er the Moor I cannot meddle with as to mending it; and the musical world have been so long accustomed to Ramsay's words, that a different song, though positively superior, would not be so well received. I am not fond of choruses to songs, so I have not made one for the foregoing.
BURNS TO MR THOMSON,
[28th] August 1793. DAINTY DAVIE.
To wander wi' my Davie.
ACTIVITY IN SONG-WRITING IN AUTUMN '93.
Meet me on the warlock knowe,
Dainty Davie, dainty Davie;
My ain dear dainty Davie.
A-wandering wi' my Davie.
To meet my faithfu' Davie.
And that's my ain dear Davie.
So much for Davie. The chorus, you know, is to the low part of the tune. See Clarke's set of it in the Museum.
N.B.- In the Museum, they have drawled out the tune to twelve lines of poetry, which is
Four lines of song, and four of chorus, is the way.
The tune of Dainty Davie had been in Burns's hands some years before, when he composed to it a song with the awkward burden, The Gardener wi' his Paidle. His taste suggesting to him the impossibility of any such song becoming popular, he now put the verses into the above improved fashion. It is understood that the homely old song which Burns thus superseded was composed upon an adventure of the Rev. David Williamson, in the time of the Persecution.' Williamson died minister of St Cuthbert's, near Edinburgh, after having married seven wives.
The letters of this month shew a remarkable activity in songwriting. The commercial distresses of the country were great; the government was preparing to try Muir and Palmer for sedition, and no mercy was expected; the world, in Burns's opinion, was out of joint. Yet we see him full of enthusiasm in writing and criticising Scottish songs, and making only that faint glance at politics, in the remark on the Georgium Sidus. It must not be supposed from this fact, that he had forced himself into an indifference towards either the state of affairs in France, where the unfortunate Girondists were now perishing in the
1 See volume iii., p. 109.