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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 so 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.
MR. BURNS to MR. THOMSON.
Sept. 1793. I dare say, my dear Sir, that you will begin to think my correspondence is persecution. No matter, I can't help it; a ballad is my hobby-horse ; which though otherwise a simple sort of harmless idiotical beast enough, has yet this blessed headstrong property, that when once it has fairly made off with a hapless
wight, wight, it gets so enamoured with the tinkle-gingle, tinkle-gingle of its own bells ; that it is sure to run poor pilgarlic, the bedlam-jockey, quite beyond any useful point or post in the common race of man.
The following song I have composed for Orangaoil, 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, the boat arrive;
Thou goest, thou darling of my heart !-
But fate has will'd, and we must part.
Yon distant isle will often hail :
“ There latest mark'd her vanish'd sail."
Along the solitary shore,
While flitting sea-fowl round me cry,
eye : Happy, thou Indian grove, I'll say,
Where now my Nancy's path may be ! While thro' thy sweets she loves to stray,
O tell me, does she muse on me!
MR. THOMSON to Mr. BURNS.
Edinburgh, 5th Sept. 1793.
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 Shakespeare 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 I read it. They were all charmed 'with it; entreated me to find out a suitable air for it, and réprobated 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
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 Lexie 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 characterize 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 victorie.
2d, Chains---chains and slaverie. VOL. IV.
Verse 3d, Let him, let him turn and flie,
4th, Let him bravely follow me.
If you connect each line with its own verse,
1 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 ensure celebrity to the air.