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Mr Erskine will take into his critical consideration. -In Sir J. Sinclair's Statistical volumes, are two claims, one, I think, from Aberdeenshire, and the other from Ayrshire, for the honour of this song. The following anecdote, which I had from the present Sir William Cunningham, of Robertland, who had it of the late John, Earl of Loudon, I can, on such authorities, believe.
. Allan Ramsay was residing at Loudon-castle with the then Earl, father to Earl John ; and one forenoon, riding or walking out together, his Lordship and Allan passed a sweet romantic spot on Irvine water, still called “ Patie's Mill," where a bonnie Jass was "tedding hay, hareheaded on the green." My Lord observed to Allan, that it would be a fine theme for a song. Ramsay took the hint, and lingering behind, he composed the first sketch of it, which he produced at dinner.
One day I heard Mary say, is a fine song ; but for consistency's sake alter the name “ Adonis.” Were there ever such -banns published, as a purpose of marriage between Adonis and Mary? I agree with you that my song, There's nought but care on every hand, is much superior to Poortith cauld. The original song, The Mill mill 0, though excellent, is, on account of delicacy, inadmissible; still I like the title, and think a Scottish song would suit the notes best ; and let your chosen song, which is very pretty, follow, as an English set. The Banks of the Dee, is, you know, literally Langolee, to slow time. The song is well enough, but has some false imagery in it: for instance,
* And sweetly the nightingale sung from the wac." In the first place, the nightingale sings in a low bush, but never from a tree; and in the second place, there never was a nightingale seen, or heard, on the banks of the Dee, or on the banks of any other river in Scotland. Exotic rural imagery is always comparatively flat. If I could hit on another stanza, equal to The small birds rejoice, &c. I do myself honestly avow, that I think it a superior song.* John Anderson my jo--the song to this tune in Johnson's Museum, is my composition, and I think it not my worst : if it suit you, take it, and welcome. Your collection of sentimental and pathetic songs, is, in my opinion, very complete; but not so your comic ones. Where are Tullochgorum, Lumps o' puddin, Többie Fowler, and several others, which, in my humble judgment, are well worthy of preservation? There is also one sentimental song of mine in the Museum, which never was known out of the immediate neighbourhood, until I got it taken down from a country girl's singing. It is called Craigie burn Wood ; and, in the opinion of Mr Clarke, is one of the sweetest Scottish songs. He is quite an enthusiast about it : and I would take his taste in Scottish music against the taste of most connoisseurs.
You are quite right in inserting the last five in your list, though they are certainly Irish. Shepherds, I have lost my love! is to me a heavenly airwhat would you think of a set of Scottish verses to
* It will be found, in the course of this correspondence, that the Bard produced a second stanza of The Chevalier's Lament, to which he here alludes) worthy of the first.
it? I have made one to it a good while ago; which I think * * * * * * * * * * * * but in its original state is not quite a lady's song. I enclose an al. tered, not amended copy for you, if you choose to set the tune to it, and let the Irish verses follow.*
Mr Erskine's songs are all pretty, but his Lone Vale is divine.
Yours, &c. Let me know just how you like these random hints.
Edinburgh, April, 1793. I REJOICE to find, my dear Sir, that ballad. making continues to be your hobby-horse- Great pity 'twould be were it otherwise. I hope you will amble it away for many a year, and “ witch the world with your horsemanship.”
* Mr Thomson, it appears, did not approve of this song, even in its altered state. It does not apppear in the correspon. dence; but it is probably one to be found in his MSS. begin ning,
" Yestreen I got a pint of wine,
A place where body saw na ;
The gowden locks of Anna." It is highly characteristic of our Bard, but the strain of sentiment does not correspond with the air to which he proposes it should be allied.
I know there are a good many lively songs of merit that I have not put down in the list sent you; but I have them all in my eye. My Patie is a lover gay, though a little unequal, is a natural and very pleasing song, and I humbly think we ought not to displace or alter it, except the last stanza*,
April, 1793. I HAVE yours, my dear Sir, this moment. I shall answer it and your former letter, in my desultory way of saying whatever comes uppermost.
The business of many of our tunes wanting, at the beginning, what fiddlers call a starting-note, is often a rub to us poor rhymers. “There's braw, braw lads on Yarrow braes,
That wander thro' the blooming heather," you may alter to
“ Braw, braw lads on Yarrow braes,
Ye wander, &c. My song, Here awa, there awa, as amended by Mr Erskine, I entirely approve of, and return you.to
* The original letter from Mr Thomson contains many observations on the Scottish songs, and on the manner of adapt. ing the words to the music, which, at his desire, are suppressed. The subsequent letter of Mr Burns refers to several of these ob servations.
+ The reader has already seen that Burns did not finally adopt all of Mr Erskine's alterations.
E. VOL, IV,
Give me leave to criticise your taste in the only thing in which it is in my opinion reprehensible. You know I ought to know something of my own trade. Of pathos, sentiment, and point, you are a complete judge; but there is a quality more necessary than either, in a song, and which is the very essence of a ballad, I mean simplicity: now, if I mistake not, this last feature you are a little apt to sacrifice to the foregoing..
Ramsay, as every other poet, has not been always equally happy in his pieces; still I cannot approve of taking such liberties with an author as Mr W. proposes doing with The last time I cam o'er the moor. Let a poet, if he chooses, take up the idea of another, and work it into a piece of his own; but to mangle the works of the poor bard, whose tuneful tongue is now mute for ever, in the dark and narrow house ; by Heaven 'uwould be sacrilege! I grant that Mr Wo's version is an improvement; but I know Mr W. well, and esteem him much ; let him mend the song, as the Highlander mended his gun ;--- he gave it a new stock, a new lock, and a new barrel..
I do not by this object to leaving out improper stanzas, where that can be done without spoiling the whole. One stanza in The Lass o' Patie's Mill must be left out: the song will be nothing worse for it. I am not sure if we can take the same liberty with Corn rigs are bonnie. Perhaps it might want the last stanza, and be the better for it. Cauld kail in Aberdeen you must leave with me yet a while. I have vowed to have a song to that air, on the lady whom I attempted to celebrate in the verses, Poortith cauld