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Mr BURNS to MR THOMSON.
MY DEAR SIR,
July 2d, 1793. I have just finished the following ballad, and, as I do think it in my best style, I send it you. Mr Clarke, who wrote down the air froin Mrs Burns' wood-note wild, is very fond of it, and has given it a celebrity, by teaching it to some young ladies of the first fashion here. If you do not like the air enough to give it a place in your collection, please return it. The song you may keep, as I remember it.
There was a lass, and she was fair,
At kirk and market to be seen;
The fairest maid was bonnie Jean.
And ay she wrought her mammie's wark,
And ay she sang sae merrilie :
Had ne'er a lighter heart than she.
But hawks will rob the tender joys,
That bless the little lintwhite's nest;
And love will break the soundest rest,
Young Robie was the brawest lad,
The flower and pride of a' the glen;
And he had owsen, sheep, and kye,
And wanton naigies nine or ten.
He gaed wi' Jeanie to the tryste,
He danc'd wi' Jeanie on the down;
Her heart was tint, her peace was stown.
As in the bosom o' the stream,
The moon-beam dwells at dewy e'en ;
Within the breast o' bonnie Jean.*
And now she works her mammie's wark,
And ay she sighs wi' care and pain ;.
Or what wad mak her weel again..
But did na Jeanie's heart loup light,
And did na joy blink in her e'e,
Ae e'enin on the lily lea ?
The sun was sinking in the west,
The birds sang sweet in ilka grove ;
And whisper'd thus his tale o' love:
* In the original Mş. our poet asks Mr Thomson if thia stanza is not original ?
Or wilt thou leave thy mammie's cot,
And learn to tent the farms wi' me?
At barn or byre thou shalt na drudge,
Or naething else to trouble thee;
And tent the waving corn wi' me.
Now what could artless Jeanie do ?
She had nae will to say him na :
And love was ay between them twa.
I have some thoughts of inserting in your index, or in my notes, the names of the fair ones, the themes of my songs. I do not mean the name at full ; but dashes or asterisms, so as ingenuity may find them out.
The heroine of the foregoing is Miss M. daughter to Mr M. of D. one of your subscribers. I have not painted her in the rank which she holds in life, but in the dress and character of a cottager.
MR BURNS to MR THOMSON
July, 1793. I ASSURE you, my dear Sir, that you truly hurt me with your pecuniary parcel. It degrades me in my own eyes. However, to return it would savour of affectation ; but as to any more traffic of that debtor and creditor kind, I swear by that HONOUR which crowns the upright statue of ROBERT Burns's INTEGRITY-on the least motion of it, I will indignantly spurn the by-past transaction, and from that moment commence entire stranger to you! Burns's character for generosity of sentiment and independence of mind, will, I trust long outlive any of his wants which the cold unfeeling ore can supply : at least, I will take care that such a character he shall deserve. . .
Thank you for my copy of your publication. Never did my eyes behold, in any musical work, such elegance and correctness. Your preface, too, is admirably written; only your partiality to me has made you say too much : however, it will bind me down to double every effort in the future progress of the work. The following are a few remarks on the songs in the list you sent me. I never copy what I write to you, so I may be often tautological, or perhaps contradictory.
The Flowers of the Forest is charming as a poem, and should be, and must be, set to the notes ; but, though out of your rule, the three stanzas beginning,
“ I hae seen the smiling o' fortune beguiling," are worthy of a place, were it but to immortalize the author of them, who is an old lady of my acquaintance, and at this moment living in Edinburgh. She is a Mrs Cockburn; I forget of what place; but from Roxburghshire. What a charming apostrophe is
“O fickle fortune, why this eruel sporting,
The old ballad, I wish I were where Helen lies, is silly to contemptibility.* My alteration of it in Johnson's is not much better. Mr Pinkerton, in his, what he calls, ancient ballads (many of them notorious, though beautiful enough, forgeries) has the best set. It is full of his own interpolations, but no matter.
In my next I will suggest to your consideration a few songs which may have escaped your hurried notice. In the mean time, allow me to congratulate you now, as a brother of the quill. You have committed your character and fame; which will now be tried for ages to come, by the illustrious jury of the Sons and Daughters of TASTE-all whom poesy can please, or music charm.
Being a bard of nature, I have some pretensions to second sight; and I am warranted by the spirit to foretel and affirm, that your great-grand-child will hold up your volumes, and say, with honest pride, “ This so much admired selection was the work of my ancestor."
MR THOMSON to Mr BURNS. DEAR SIR,
Edinburgh, 1st August, 1793. I had the pleasure of receiving your last two letters, and am happy to find you are quite pleased
* There is a copy of this ballad given in the account of the Parish of Kirkpatrick Fleeming (which contains the tomb of fair Helen Irvine), in the Statistics of Sir John Sinclair, vol. XIII. p. 275, to which this character is certainly not applicable. E.