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MR THOMSON TO BURNS.

EDINBURGH, 10th August 1794. MY DEAR SIR-I owe you an apology for having so long delayed to acknowledge the favour of your last. I fear it will be as you say, I shall have no more songs from Pleyel till France and we are friends; but, nevertheless, I am very desirous to be prepared with the poetry; and as the season approaches in which your Muse of Coila visits you, I trust I shall, as formerly, be frequently gratified with the result of your amorous and tender interviews!

It will be found in the few ensuing pages that, as usual, Burns got into active inspiration during the autumn. He appears to have now recovered from the low spirits which beset him in the early part of the year.

BURNS TO MR THOMSON.

30th August 1794. The last evening, as I was straying out, and thinking of O'er the Hills and far away, I spun the following stanza for it; but whether my spinning will deserve to be laid up in store, like the precious thread of the silkworm, or brushed to the devil, like the vile manufacture of the spider, I leave, my dear sir, to your usual candid criticism. I was pleased with several lines in it at first, but I own that now it appears rather a flimsy business. This is just

hasty sketch, until I see whether it be worth a critique. We have many sailor-songs, but as far as I at present recollect, they are mostly the effusions of the jovial sailor, not the wailings of his lovelorn mistress. I must here make one sweet exception-Sweet Annie frae the Sea-beach came. Now for the song:

ON THE SEAS AND FAR AWAY.

TUNE-O'er the Hills, &c.
How can my poor heart be glad,
When absent from my sailor lad?
How can I the thought forego,
He's on the seas to meet the foe!
Let me wander, let me rove,
Still my heart is with my love:
Nightly dreams, and thoughts by day,
Are with him that's far away.

CHORUS.

On the seas and far away,
On stormy seas and far away ;
Nightly dreams, and thoughts by day,
Are aye with him that's far away.

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I give you leave to abuse this song, but do it in the spirit of Christian meekness.

MR THOMSON TO BURNS.

EDINBURGH, 16th Sept. 1794. MY DEAR SIR-You have anticipated my opinion of On the Seas and far away; I do not think it one of your very happy productions, though it certainly contains stanzas that are worthy of all acceptation.

The second is the least to my liking, particularly, 'Bullets, spare my only joy!' Confound the bullets ! It might, perhaps, be objected to the third verse, “At the starless midnight hour,' that it has too much grandeur of imagery, and that greater simplicity of thought would have better suited the character of a sailor's sweetheart. The tune, it must be remembered, is of the brisk, cheerful kind. Upon the whole, therefore, in my humble opinion, the song would be better adapted to the tune, if it consisted only of the first and last verses, with the choruses.

BURNS TO MR THOMSON.

Sept. 1794. I SHALL withdraw my On the Seas and far away altogether: it is unequal, and unworthy the work. Making a poem is like begetting a son: you cannot know whether you have a wise man or a fool, until you produce him to the world to try him.

For that reason, I send you the offspring of my brain, abortions and all; and, as such, pray look over them, and forgive them, and burn them. I am flattered at your adopting Ca' the Yowes to the Knowes, as it was owing to me that ever it saw the light. About seven years ago, I was well acquainted with a worthy little fellow of a clergyman, a Mr Clunie, who sang it charmingly; and, at my request, Mr Clarke took it down from his singing. When I

gave

it to Johnson, I added some stanzas to the song, and mended others, but still it will not do for you. In a solitary stroll which I took to-day, I tried my hand on a few pastoral lines, following up the idea of the chorus, which I would preserve. Here it is, with all its crudities and imperfections on its head.

CA' THE YOWES TO THE KNOWES.

CHORUS.

Ca’ the yowes to the knowes,
Ca’ them where the heather grows,
Ca’ them where the burnie rows,

My bonnie dearie!

Hark! the mavis' evening-sang
Sounding Cluden's woods amang ;
Then a faulding let us gang,

My bonnie dearie.

We'll gae down by Cluden side,
Through the hazels spreading wide,
O’er the waves that sweetly glide

To the moon sae clearly.

Yonder Cluden's silent towers,
Where at moonshine midnight hours,
O'er the dewy bending flowers,

Fairies dance sae cheery.

I This Virgilian order of the poet should, I think, be disobeyed with respect to the song in question, the second stanza excepted.-Note by Mr Thomson.

Doctors differ. The objection to the second stanza does not strike the editor.CURRIE.

SONG - SHE SAYS SHE LOES ME BEST OF A'.

93

Ghaist nor bogle shalt thou fear;
Thou’rt to love and heaven sae dear,
Nocht of ill may come thee near,

My bonnie dearie.

Fair and lovely as thou art,
Thou hast stown my very heart;
I can die-but 'canna part,

My bonnie dearie.

While waters wimple to the sea;
While day blinks in the lift sae hie;
Till clay-cauld death shall blin' my ee,

Ye shall be my dearie.

I shall give you my opinion of your other newly-adopted songs, my first scribbling fit.

BURNS TO MR THOMSON,

Sept. 1794 Do you know a blackguard Irish song called Onagh: Waterfall ? Our friend Cunningham sings it delightfully. The air is charming, and I have often regretted the want of decent verses to it. It is too much, at least for my humble rustic Muse, to expect that every effort of hers shall have merit; still, I think that it is better to have mediocre verses to a favourite air, than none at all. On this principle I have all along proceeded in the Scots Musical Museum; and as that publication is at its last volume, I intend the following song, to the air above mentioned, for that work.

If it does not suit you as an editor, you may be pleased to have verses to it that you can sing in the company of ladies.

SHE SAYS SHE LOES ME BEST OF A'.

TUNE-Onagh's Lock.
Sae flaxen were her ringlets,

Her eyebrows of a darker hue,
Bewitchingly o’er-arching

Twa laughing een o' bonnie blue.
Her smiling, sae wiling,

Wad make a wretch forget his wo:
What pleasure, what treasure,

Unto these rosy lips to grow :
Such was my Chloris' bonnie face,

When first her bonnie face I saw;
And aye my Chloris' dearest charm,

She says she loes me best of a'.

Like harmony her motion;

Her pretty ankle is a spy
Betraying fair proportion,

Wad make a saint forget the sky.
Sae warming, sae charming,

Her faultless form and graceful air ;
Ilk feature-auld nature

Declared that she could do nae mair.
Hers are the willing chains o' love,

By conquering beauty's sovereign law;
And aye my Chloris' dearest charm,

She says she loes me best of a'.

Let others love the city,

And gaudy show at sunny noon;
Gie me the lonely valley,

The dewy eve, and rising moon
Fair beaming, and streaming,

Her silver light the boughs amang;
While falling, recalling,

The amorous thrush concludes his sang :
There, dearest Chloris, wilt thou rove

By wimpling burn and leafy shaw,
And hear my vows o' truth and love,

And say thou loes me best of a'.

Not to compare small things with great, my taste in music is like the mighty Frederick of Prussia's taste in painting: we are told that he frequently admired what the connoisseurs decried, and always without any hypocrisy confessed his admiration. I am sensible that my taste in music must be inelegant and vulgar, because people of undisputed and cultivated taste can find no merit in my favourite tunes. Still, because I am cheaply pleased, is that any reason why I should deny myself that pleasure? Many of our strathspeys, ancient and modern, give me most exquisite enjoyment, where you and other judges would probably be shewing disgust. For instance, I am just now making verses for Rothemurchie's Rant, an air which puts me in raptures ; and, in fact, unless I be pleased with the tune, I never can make verses to it. Here I have Clarke on my side, who is a judge that I will pit against any of you. Rothemurchie, he says, is an air both original and beautiful ;' and on his recommendation I have taken the first part of the tune for a chorus, and the fourth or last part for the song. I am but two stanzas deep in the work, and possibly you may think, and justly, that the poetry is as little worth your attention as the music.

[These stanzas will be found afterwards in the complete song.] I have begun anew, Let me in this ae Night. Do you think that we ought to retain the old chorus ? I think we must retain both the old

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