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Edinburgh, September, 1792. For some years past, I have, with a friend or two, employed many leisure hours in selecting and col. lating the most favourite of our national melodies for publication. We have engaged Pleyel, the most agreeable composer living, to put accompaniments to these, and also to compose an instrumental prelude and conclusion to each air, the better to fit them for concerts, both public and private. To render this work perfect, we are desirous to have the poetry improved, wherever it seems unworthy of the music; and that it is so in many instances, is allowed by every one conversant with our musical collections. The editors of these seem in general to have depended on the music proving an excuse for the verses; and hence, some charming melodies are VOL. IV.
united to mere nonsense and doggerel, while others are accommodated with rhymes so loose and indelicate, as cannot be sung in decent company. To remove this reproach would be an easy task to the author of The Cotter's Saturday Night ; and, for the honour of Caledonia, I would fain hope he may be induced to take up the pen. If so, we shall be enabled to present the public with a collection infinitely more interesting than any that has yet appeared, and acceptable to all persons of taste, whether they wish for correct melodies, delicate accompaniments, or characteristic verses. We will esteem your poetical assistance a particular favour, besides paying any reasonable price you shall please to demand for it. Profit is quite a secondary consideration with us, and we are resolved to spare neither pains nor expense on the publication. Tell me frankly, then, whether you will devote your leisure to writing twenty or twenty-five songs, suited to the particular melodies which I am prepared to send you. A few songs, exceptionable only in some of their verses, I will likewise submit to your consideration ; leaving it to you, either to mend these, or make new songs in their stead. It is superfluous to assure you that I have no intention to displace any of the sterling old songs; those only will be removed, which appear quite silly, or absolutely indecent. Even these shall all be examined by Mr Burns, and if he is of opi. nion that any of them are deserving of the music, in such cases no divorce shall take place.
Relying on the letter accompanying this, to be forgiven for the liberty I have taken in addressing rou, I am, with great esteem, Sir, your most obedi. ent humble servant,
MR BURNS to MR THOMSON.
.. Dumfries, 16th September, 1792. I HAVE just this moment got your letter. As the request you make to me will positively add to my enjoyments in complying with it, I shall enter into your undertaking with all the small portion of abilities I have, strained to their utmost exertion by the impulse of enthusiasm. Only, don't hurry me : “ Deil tak the hindmost," is by no means the cri de guerre of my muse. Will you, as I am inferior to none of you in enthusiastic attachment to the poetry and music of old Caledonia, and, since you request it, have cheerfully promised my mite of assistance will you let me have a list of your airs, with the first line of the printed verses you intend for them, that I may have an opportunity of suggesting any alteration that may occur to me. You know 'tis in the way of my trade ; still leaving you, gentlemen, the undoubted right of publishers, to approve, or reject, at your pleasure, for your own publication. Apropos ! if you are for English verses, there is, on my part, an end of the matter. Whether in the simplicity of the ballad, or the pathos of the song, I can only hope to please myself in being allowed at least
a-sprinkling of our native tongue. English verses, particularly the works of Scotsmen, that have merit, are certainly very eligible. Tweedside! Ah! the poor shepherd's mournful fate! Ah! Chloris, could I now but sit, &c. you cannot mend; but such insipid stuff as, To Fanny fair could I impart, &c., usually set to The Mill Mill O, is a disgrace to the collections in which it has already appeared, and would doubly disgrace a collection that will have the very superior merit of yours. But inore of this in the farther prosecution of the business, if I am called on for my strictures and amendments I say, amendments; for 'I will not alter except where I myself at least think that I amend.
As to any remuneration, you may think my songs either above or below price ; for they shall absolutely be the one or the other. In the honest enthusiasm with which I embark in your undertaking, to talk of money, wages, fee, hire, &c. would be downright prostitution of soul! A proof of each of the songs that I compose or amend, I shall receive as a favour. In the rustic phrase of the season,“ Gude speed the wark !" I am, Sir, your very humble servant,
P.S. I have some particular reasons for wishing my interference to be known as little as possible.
Mr THOMSON to MR BURNS.
Edinburgh, 13th October, 1792. , I RECEIVED, with much satisfaction, your pleasant and obliging letter, and I return my warmest acknowledgments for the enthusiasın with which you have entered into our undertaking. We have now no doubt of being able to produce a collection highly deserving of public attention in all respects.'
I agree with you in thinking English verses that have merit, very eligible, wherever new verses are necessary; because the English becomes every year more and more the language of Scotland; but if you mean that no English verses, except those by Scottish authors, ought to be admitted, I am half inclin. ed to differ from you. I should consider it unpardenable to sacrifice one good song in tlie Scottish dialect, to make room for English verses ; but if we can select a few excellent opes suited to the unpro vided or ill-provided airs, would it not be the very bigotry of literary patriotism to reject such, merely because the authors were born south of the Tweed ? Our sweet air, My Nanie 0, which in the collections is joined to the poorest stuff that Allan Ramsay ever wrote, beginning, While some for pleasure pawn their health, answers so finely to Dr Percy's beautiful song, 0, Nancy wilt thou go with me, that one would think he wrote it on purpose for the air. However, it is not at all our wish to confine you to English verses ; you shall freely be allowed a sprinko