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fields and on the scaffold, or to the progress of the reaction at home, which threatened to crush every sentiment of liberty in which England had formerly gloried. But the beauty of the season had come over him with its benign influence, and he gladly sought some relief from the exasperations of public affairs in the soothing blandishments of the Doric muse.
MR THOMSON TO BURNS.
EDINBURGH, 1st Sept. 1793. MY DEAR SIR—Since writing you last, I have received half-adozen songs, with which I am delighted beyond expression. The humour and fancy of Whistle, and I'll come to you, my Lad, will render it nearly as great a favourite as Duncan Gray. Come, let me take thee to my Breast, Adown winding Nith, and By Allan Stream, &c. are full of imagination and feeling, and sweetly suit the airs for which they are intended. Had I a Cave on some wild distant Shore, is a striking and affecting composition. Our friend, to whose story it refers, reads it with a swelling heart, I assure you. The union we are now forming, I think, can never be broken: these songs of yours will descend, with the music, to the latest posterity, and will be fondly cherished so long as genius, taste, and sensibility exist in our island.
While the Muse seems so propitious, I think it right to enclose a list of all the favours I have to ask of her - no fewer than twenty and three! I have burdened the pleasant Peter with as many as it is probable he will attend to: most of the remaining airs would puzzle the English poet not a little — they are of that peculiar measure and rhythm, that they must be familiar to him who writes for them.
BURNS TO MR THOMSON.
Sept. 1793. You know that my pretensions to musical taste are merely a few of nature's instincts, untaught and untutored by art. For this reason many musical compositions, particularly where much of the merit lies in counterpoint, however they may transport and ravish the ears of you connoisseurs, affect my simple lug no otherwise than merely as melodious din. On the other hand, by way of amends, I am delighted with many little melodies, which the learned musician despises as silly and insipid. I do not know whether the old air, Hey, tuttie taitie, may rank among this number; but well I know that, with Fraser's hautboy, it has often filled my eyes with tears,
| Fraser was many years after the hautboy-player in the orchestra of the Edinburgh theatre, where his solos were always greatly admired.
There is a tradition, which I have met with in many places in Scotland, that it was Robert Bruce's march at the battle of Bannockburn. This thought, in my yesternight's evening walk, warmed me to a pitch of enthusiasm on the theme of liberty and independence, which I threw into a kind of Scottish ode, fitted to the air, that one might suppose to be the gallant royal Scot's address to his heroic followers on that eventful morning.
So may God ever defend the cause of truth and liberty, as He did that day! Amen.
P.S.-I shewed the air to Urbani, who was highly pleased with it, and begged me to make soft verses for it; but I had no idea of giving myself any trouble on the subject, till the accidental recollection of that glorious struggle for freedom, associated with the glowing ideas of some other struggles of the same nature, not quite 80 ancient, roused my rhyming mania. Clarke's set of the tune, with his bass, you will find in the Museum, though I am afraid that the air is not what will entitle it to a place in your elegant selection.
So the magnificent ode of Bruce to his Men'sprang partly from the inspiration afforded by the success of the French in beating back the arrogant enemies of their republic! According to Mr Symo, in his letter on the Galloway excursion of July, Burns was engaged in the composition of this ode while riding in the storm from Kenmure to Gatehouse, and when passing on the second morning thereafter on his way from Kirkcudbright to Dumfries. Mr Syme adds, that the poet presented him with a copy of the poem next day, along with a second one for Mr Dalzell. There is a discrepancy here, which can only be cleared up by supposing that Mr Syme, writing at the distance of some years, had misapplied circumstances to dates, or been misled by his imagination. The discrepancy had been observed by Dr Currie ; but he unfortunately adopted a way of overcoming the difficulty little creditable to himself, for he altered the expression my yesternight's evening walk ' into 'my solitary wanderings '-a vitiation of the original er, which has only been of late detected. I do not indeed see in Burns's letter conclusive proof that the composition was not commenced or thought of during the Galloway excursion, for a person of all desirable fidelity of mind, in relating an indifferent matter to a friend, may give it in such an abbreviated form, or with such a suppression of particulars, as may amount to a kind of misrepresentation. For example-It is not doubted that Burns composed Tam o' Shanter, as has been related, while wandering one day by the banks of the Nith, in the autumn of 1790; yet, on the 22d of January 1791, he says in a letter to Alexander Cunningham: 'I have just finished a poem (Tam o' Shanter), which you will receive enclosed.' No one could have .supposed from this expression that the whole poem had been produced at a heat three or four months before, and that only a few corrections at most had lately been administered to it by the hand of its author. It is impossible, however, to observe in this letter of September the expressions that he had thought no more of Urbani's request till the accidental recollection,' &c. in his yesternight's evening walk,'' warmed' him to a pitch of enthusiasm,' and continue to believe that Burns had given Syme a copy the day after the conclusion of their excursion at the beginning of the preceding month. And an error being proved here, it may be the more doubt Burns was at all engaged in such a subject of poetic meditation during that storm on the wilds of Kenmure.
BEHOLD THE HOUR.'
BURNS TO MR THOMSON.
[Sept. 1793.] I DARESAY, my dear sir, that you will begin to think my corre spondence is persecution. No natter, I can't help it: a ballad is my hobby-horse, which, though otherwise a simple sort of harmlest idiotical beast enough, has yet this blessed headstrong property, that when once it has fairly made off with a hapless wight, it gets so enamoured with the tinkle-gingle, tinkle-gingle of its own bells, that it is sure to run poor pilgarlick, the bedlam jockey, quite beyond any useful point or post in the common race of men.
The following song I have composed for Oran Gaoil, the Highland air that you tell me in your last you have resolved to give a place to in your book. I have this moment finished the song, so you have it glowing from the mint. If it suit you, well ! if not, 'tis also well!
BEHOLD THE HOUR,
Behold the hour, the boat arrive;
Thou goest, thou darling of my heart!
But fate has willed, and we must part.
Yon distant isle will often hail :
There latest marked her vanished sail.'
Along the solitary shore,
While flitting sea-fowl round me cry,
I'll westward turn my wistful eye:
Where now my Nancy's path may be!
Oh, tell me, does she muse on me?
MR THOMSON TO BURNS.
EDINBURGH, 5th Sept. 1742 I BELIEVE it is generally allowed that the greatest modesty is the sure attendant of the greatest merit. While you are sending me verses that even Shakspeare might be proud to own, you speak of them as if they were ordinary productions ! Your heroic ode is to me the noblest composition of the kind in the Scottish language. I happened to dine yesterday with a party of your friends, to whom ' read it. They were all charmed with it; entreated me to find out a suitable air for it, and reprobated the idea of giving it a tune so totally devoid of interest or grandeur as Hey, tuttie taitie. Assuredly your partiality for this tune must arise from the ideas associated in your mind by the tradition concerning it, for I never heard any person, and I have conversed again and again with the greatest enthusiasts for Scottish airs—I say, I never heard any one speak of it as worthy of notice.
I have been running over the whole hundred airs, of which I lately sent you the list; and I think Lewie Gordon is most happily adapted to your ode; at least with a very slight variation of the fourth line, which I shall presently submit to you. There is in Lewie Gordon more of the grand than the plaintive, particularly when it is sung with a degree of spirit, which your words would oblige the singer to give it. I would
have no scruple about substituting your ode in the room of Lewie Gordon, which has neither the interest, the grandeur, nor the poetry, that characterise your verses. Now, the variation I have to suggest upon the last line of each verse—the only line too short for the air is as follows :
Verse 1st, Or to glorious victory.
2d, Chains-chains and slavery.
6th, Let us, let us do or die ! If you connect each line with its own verse, I do not think you will find that either the sentiment or the expression loses any of its energy. The only line which I dislike in the whole of the song is, • Welcome to your gory bed.' Would not another word be preferable to welcome ?' In your next, I will expect to be informed whether you agree to what I have proposed." The little alterations I submit with the greatest deference.
The beauty of the verses you have made for Oran Gaoil will insure celebrity to the air.
Mr Thomson is here unfortunate in his criticism, particularly as to the choice of an air for Bruce's Address. Lewie Gordon is a tame melody, quite unsuited for such a heroic outburst. Besides, the necessity of inserting expletive syllables in each verse to make it suit that air, is insufferable. Mr Thomson carried his point against the better sense of Burns for the time; but the public in a few years reversed the judgment, and Hey, tuttie taitie was united to the song for ever.