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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 namby pamby 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 genias, give it a fair and candid trial. Excuse me for obtruding these bints upon your consideration.*
• Our bard had before received the same advice, and certainly took it so far into consideration, as to have cast about for a subject,
MR THOMSON to MR BURNS.
Edinburgh, 14th October, 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 collec. tion 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, aad 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 æras 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 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 recognize 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, eren supposing the first collectors to have possessed the industry, the taste, and discernment to choose the best they could hear, (which is far from certain) skill it must eridently be a chance, whether the collections exhibit any of the melodies in the state they were first composed. In selecting tåe 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 beautifal, 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 starter myself that nr sets will be found equally freed from ralgar errors on the one hand, and afected graces on the
MY DEAR FRIEND,
19th October, 1794. 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, persuade you to adopt my favourite, Craigie-burn-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-a mistress, or friend, or what you will, in the guileless siraplicity 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 more than ordinary in song ; to be in some degree equal to your «liviner 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 verses. The lightning of her eye is the godhead of Parnassus ; and the witchery of her smile, the divinity of Helicon!
To descend to business ; 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 in. stead of worse stanzas.
SAW YE MY PHELY.
( Quasi dicat Phillis.)
Tune-" WHEN SHE CAM BEN SHE BOBBIT."
O, 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.
O, had I ne'er seen thee, my Phely!