« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
EPIGRAM ON MISS JESSIE STAIG'S RECOVERY.
chorus and the first stanza of the old song. I do not altogether like the third line of the first stanza, but cannot alter it to please myself. I am just three stanzas deep in it. ' Would you have the denouement to be successful or otherwise k-should she let him in' or not?
Did you not once propose The Sow's Tail to Geordie as an air for your work? I am quite delighted with it; but I acknowledge, that is no mark of its real excellence. I once set about verses for it, which I meant to be in the alternate way of a lover and his mistress chanting together. I have not the pleasure of knowing Mrs Thomson's Christian name, and yours, I am afraid, is rather burlesque for sentiment, else I had meant to have made you [two] the hero and heroine of the little piece.
How do you like the following epigram, which I wrote the other day on a lovely young girl's recovery from a fever? Dr Maxwell was the physician who seemingly saved her from the grave; and to him I address the following:
TO DR MAXWELL,
That merit I deny:
An angel could not die!
MR THOMSON TO BURNS.
I PERCEIVE the sprightly Muse is now attendant upon her favourite poet, whose wood-notes wild are become as enchanting as ever. She says she loes me best of a' is one of the pleasantest table-songs I have seen, and henceforth shall be mine when the song is going round. I'll give Cunningham a copy; he can more powerfully proclaim its merit. I am far from undervaluing your taste for the strathspey music; on the contrary, I think it highly animating and agreeable, and that some of the strathspeys, when graced with such verses as yours, will make very pleasing songs, in the same way that rough Christians are tempered and softened by lovely woman, without whom, you know, they had been brutes.
I am clear for having the Sow's Tail, particularly as your proposed verses to it are so extremely promising. Geordie, as you observe, is a name only fit for burlesque composition. Mrs Thoinson's name (Katharine) is not at all poetical. Retain Jeanie, therefore, and make the other Jamie, or any other that sounds agreeably.
Your Ca the Ewes is a precious little morceau. Indeed, I am perfectly astonished and charmed with the endless variety of your fancy. Here let me ask you, whether you never seriously turned your thoughts upon dramatic writing? That is a field worthy of your genius, in which it might shine forth in all its splendour. One or two successful pieces upon the London stage would make your fortune. The rage at present is for musical dramas : few or none of those which have appeared since the Duenna possess much poetical merit; there is little in the conduct of the fable, or in the dialogue, to interest the audience: they are chiefly vehicles for music and pageantry. I think you might produce a comic opera in three acts, which would live by the poetry, at the same time that it would be proper to take every assistance from her tuneful sister. Part of the songs, of course, would be to our favourite Scottish airs; the rest might be left to the London composer--Storace for Drury Lane, or Shield for Covent Garden, both of them very able and popular musicians. I believe that interest and maneuvring are often necessary to have a drama brought on; so it may be with the nambypamby tribe of flowery scribblers : but were you to address Mr Sheridan himself by letter, and send him a dramatic piece, I am persuaded he would, for the honour of genius, give it a fair and candid trial. Excuse me for obtruding these hints upon your consideration.
With reference to the suggestion here made by Mr Thomson, Dr Currie says that our bard had previously received the same advice, and had certainly gone so far as to cast about for a subject.
MR THOMSON TO BURNS.
EDINBURGH, 14th Oct. 1794, The last eight days have been devoted to the re-examination of the Scottish collections. I have read, and sung, and fiddled, and considered, till I am half blind, and wholly stupid. The few airs I have added are enclosed.
Peter Pindar has at length sent me all the songs I expected from him, which are, in general, elegant and beautiful. Have you heard of a London collection of Scottish airs and songs, just published by Mr Ritson, an Englishman? I shall send you a copy. His introductory essay on the subject is curious, and evinces great reading and research, but does not decide the question as to the origin of our melodies ; though he shews clearly that Mr Tytler, in his ingenious dissertation, has adduced no sort of proof of the hypothesis he wished to establish, and that his classification of the airs according to the eras when they were composed, is mere fancy and conjecture. On John Pinkerton, Esq., he has no mercy, but consigns him to damnation. He snarls at my publication, on the score of Pindar being engaged to write songs for it; uncandidly and unjustly leaving
DESCRIBES CHLORIS AS HIS POETICAL GODDESS.
it to be inferred, that the songs of Scottish writers had been sent a packing to make room for Peter's! Of you he speaks with some respect, but gives you a passing hit or two for daring to dress up a little some old foolish songs for the Museum. His sets of the Scottish airs are taken, he says, from the oldest collections and best authorities : many of them, however, have such a strange aspect, and are so unlike the sets which are sung by every person of taste, old or young, in town or country, that we can scarcely recognise the features of our favourites. By going to the oldest collections of our music, it does not follow that we find the melodies in their original state. These melodies had been preserved, we know not how long, by oral communication, before being collected and printed ; and as different persons sing the same air very differently, according to their accurate or confused recollection of it, so, even supposing the first collectors to possess the industry, taste, and discernment to choose the best they could hear-which is far from certain-still it must evidently be a chance whether the collections exhibit any of the melodies in the state they were first composed. In selecting the melodies for my own collection, I have been as much guided by the living as by the dead. Where these differed, I preferred the sets that appeared to me the most simple and beautiful, and the most generally approved: and without meaning any compliment to my own capability of choosing, or speaking of the pains I have taken, I flatter myself that my sets will be found equally free from vulgar errors on the one hand, and affected graces on the other.
BURNS TO MR THOMSON,
19th October 1794. MY DEAR FRIEND-By this morning's post I have your list, and, in general, I highly approve of it. I shall, at more leisure, give you a critique on the whole. Clarke goes to your town by to-day's fly, and I wish you would call on him, and take his opinion in general: you know his taste is a standard. He will return here again in a week or two, so please do not miss asking for him. One thing I hope he will do, which would give me high satisfaction-persuade you to adopt my favourite, Craigieburn Wood, in your selection: it is as great a favourite of his as of mine. The lady on whom it was made is one of the finest women in Scotland; and, in fact (entre nous), is in a manner to me what Sterne's Eliza was to him mistress, or friend, or what you will, in the guileless simplicity of Platonic love. (Now, don't put any of your squinting constructions on this, or have any clishmaclaver about it among our acquaintances.) I assure you, that to my lovely friend you are indebted for many of your best songs of mine. Do you think that the sober, gin-horse routine of existence could inspire a man with life, and love, and joy --could fire him with enthusiasm, or melt him with pathos, equal to
the genius of your book? No-no! Whenever I want to be moro than ordinary in song-to be in some degree equal to your diviner airs-do you imagine I fast and pray for the celestial emanation! Tout au contraire! I have a glorious recipe; the very one that for his own use was invented by the divinity of healing and poetry, when erst he piped to the flocks of Admetus. I put myself in a regimen of admiring a fine woman; and, in proportion to the adorability of her charms, in proportion you are delighted with my
The lightning of her eye is the godhead of Parnassus, and the witchery of her smile the divinity of Helicon!
To descend to the business with which I began: if you like my idea of When she cam ben she bobbit, the following stanzas of mine, altered a little from what they were formerly, when set to another air, may perhaps do instead of worse stanzas :
SAW YE MY PHELY?
TUNE-When she cam ben she bobbit.
Oh, saw ye my dear, my Phely?
She winna come hame to her Willy.
What says she, my dearest, my Phely?
And for ever disowns thee, her Willy.
Oh, had I ne'er seen thee, my Phely!
Thou's broken the heart o' thy Willy.
Now for a few miscellaneous remarks. The Posie (in the Museum) is my composition; the air was taken down from Mrs Burns's voice. Í It is well known in the west country, but the old words are trash. By the by, take a look at the tune again, and tell me if you do not think it is the original from which Roslin Castle is composed. The second part, in particular, for the first two or three bars, is exactly the old air. Strathallan's Lament is mine; the music is by our right trusty and deservedly well-beloved Allan Masterton. DonochtHead is not mine; I would give ten pounds it were. It appeared first in the Edinburgh Herald, and came to the editor of that paper
1 This, and the other poems of which he speaks, had appeared in Johnson's Museum, and Mr T. had inquired whether they were our bard's. ---CURRIE.
REMARKS ON SCOTTISH SONGS.
with the Newcastle post-mark on it.1 Whistle o'er the Lave o't is mine: the music said to be by a John Bruce, a celebrated violinplayer in Dumfries, about the beginning of this century. This I know—Bruce, who was an honest man, though a red-wud Highlandman, constantly claimed it; and by the old musical people here, is believed to be the author of it.
Andrew and his cutty Gun. - The song to which this is set in the Museum is mine, and was composed on Miss Euphemia Murray, of Lintrose, commonly and deservedly called The Flower of Strathmore.
How long and dreary is the Night!- I met with some such words in a collection of songs somewhere, which I altered and enlarged; and to please you, and to suit your favourite air, I have taken a stride or two across my room, and have arranged it anew, as you will find on the other page.
The reader will be curious to see this poem, so highly praised by Burns. Here it is:
Keen blaws the wind o'er Donocht-Head,
The snaw drives snelly through the dale,
And, shivering, tells his waefu' tale.
And dinna let your minstrel fa',
Be naething but a wreath o'snaw.
And piped where gor-cocks whirring flew,
To lilts which from my drone I blew."
“Get up, guidman, and let him in;
Was short when he began his din."
Even though she bans and scaulds a wee;
Oh, haith, it's doubly dear to me!
I'll make it bleeze a bonnie flame;
Ye shouldna stray sae far frae hame."
“ Sad party-strife o'erturned my ha'; And, weeping at the eve of life,
I wander through a wreath o' snaw.”' This affecting poem is apparently incomplete. The author need not be ashamed to own himself. It is worthy of Burns, or of Macneill.--CURRIE. [It was written by a gentleman of Newcastle, named Pickering.]
IA mountain in the north.