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so finely wound up with the beautiful apostrophe to the Mavis,
'Sing on, thou sweet mavis, thy hymn to the e'ening.'
" When I had composed the music, Jessie was introduced to the world with this clog hanging at her foot, much against my inclination and advice ; however, I feel confident that every singer of taste will discard it as a useless appendage.
“The music to Thou bonnie wood, of Craigielee was composed by 'Blythe Jamie Barr frae St. Barchan's town.' It does its author great credit. It is a very pleasing and natural melody, and has become most deservedly a great favourite all over the West Kintra side. I think this little ballad possesses considerable merit; one of its stanzas strikes me as being particularly beautiful.
* While winter blaws in sleety showers,
Frae aff the norland hills sae hie,
As laith to harm a flower in thee.'
“ The little Bacchanalian Rant you are so anxious to know the history of was written in commemoration of a very happy evening spent by the poet, with four of his MUSICAL
At that meeting he was in high spirits, and his conversation became more than usually animated ; many songs were sung, and we had some glee singing, but neither fiddle nor flute made its appearance in company, nor were any of us 'nid, nid, nodding,
"unco happy,' and had just such a 'drappie in our e'e' as enabled us to bid defiance to care for the time being, but the poet thought proper to embellish his song with the old chorus, We're a' nodding,' and rather than throw aside a lucky thought he chose to depict his ain bardship, as blind as an owl,' but I assure you this was not the case ; his bardship had all his faculties 'sitting lightly on him.'
As the merry rhymes in question were never intended for the public eye I hope you will not give a copy to any person. *
* We have ventured to disagree on this point with Mr. Smith, inasmuch as the courteous reader will find the song alluded to printed at full length in the Appendix.- Editor,
Songs possessing great poetical beauty do not always become favourites with the public.— Keen blaws the wind o’er the braes of Gleniffer is perhaps Tannahill's best lyrical effusion, yet it does not appear to be much known, at least it is but seldom sung. It was written for the old Scotish melody, Bonnie Dundee, but Burns had occupied the same ground before him. Mr. Ross, of Aberdeen, composed a very pretty air for it, yet, to use the phrase of a certain favourite vocal performer, it did not hit. The language and imagery of this song appear to me beautiful and natural. There is an elegant simplicity in the couplet,
• The wild flowers of summer were spread a' sao bonnie,
The mavis sang sweet frae the green birken tree,'
And the dreary appearance of the scenery in winter is strikingly pourtrayed in the second stanza,
Now naething is heard but the wind whistling dreary :
And naething is seen but the wide-spreading snaw.'
* The trees are a' bare, and the birds mute and dowie,
They shake the could drift frae their wings as they flee,
"Tis winter wi' them, and 'tis winter wi' me.'
The birds shaking 'the cauld drift frae their wings' is an idea not unworthy of Burns.
“One of Taunahill's most favourite walks was by the ruins of Stanley Castle, or over the Braes of Gleniffer. There he could recline on the brown heather, or sit on the side of a bracken-fringed rock, listen to the burn murmuring through the glen, and view the wild and varied scene around him with a • Poet's eye,'
• Whene'er you roam by Stanley's mouldering walls,
“He was possessed of a correct ear, and had acquired as much knowledge of music as enabled him to learn any simple melody if written in an easy key for the German Flute ; an old one, cracked in half a dozen places, and bound up with waxed cord, he always kept beside his loom, and latterly he could commit any air to paper which he had caught by ear-an earthen ink bottle usually hung on his loom post, and I believe that the greater number of his songs were composed whilst he was steadily occupied at his business. Unfortunately his celebrity as a song writer led many an idle person through vanity or curiosity to see him, which was too frequently effected by sending for him to an inn; and he has often lamented bitterly to me in private his want of fortitude to withstand those intrusions : such deviations from prudence always produced the most agonizing reflections, and I fear formed one of the causes which accelerated his unhappy fate ; that this was the case is obvious from a letter which he wrote about this time to a friend in Glasgow, in which he says, “That scribbling of rhymes hath positively half ruined me. It has led me into a wide circle of acquaintance, of course into an involuntary habit of being oftener in a public house than can be good for any body--although I go there as seldom as possible, yet how often have I sat till within my last shilling, and unlike some of our friends who are better circumstanced, had to return to my loom sick and feverish. This often makes me appear sullen in company, for if I indulge to the extent we have both seen in others, I am in for two or three days afterwards.'-Other circumstances com. bined to depress his mind. Several of his printed poems had been censured pretty severely; he had published too prematurely. Of this he was pretty sensible, and to retrieve his character as a poet bad prepared for the press a new edition much corrected, in which all his songs were carefully retouched, and many of his former pieces expunged, so that not a line was suffered to remain that could reasonably give offence. How to get it published was now the only remaining difficulty, for the native independence of his spirit could not brook the idea of publishing again by subscription. About this time I had been commissioned by a respectable bookseller in Greenock to treat with
him for the copyright, and I believe he sent his manuscripts, or at least a copy of the printed volume, with his corrections, to Mr. for inspection, but from tardiness of reply in that quarter he sent the completed manuscript to Edinburgh, offer. ing the copyright for a very small sum to Mr. Constable. Unhappily that gentleman was in London at the time, and when written to on the subject answered that he had more new works on hand than he could undertake that season ; accordingly the manuscript was returned.
“This disappointment preyed heavily on his spirits, and I observed a change of disposition gradually wear on him from that time; a proneness to imagine his best friends were disposed to use him ill, and a certain jealous fear of his claims to genius being impugned. These imaginary grievances were frequently confided to me, and I found it impossible to convince him of his error.
“Two days before his death he showed me several poetical pieces of a most strange texture, and in the afternoon of the same day he called on me again, requesting me to return him a song that had been left for my perusal. I had laid it past in a music book and was unable to find it at the time. It was his last production and he seemed to be much disappointed when, after a long search, I could not procure it for him. *
This was the last time I saw him. The anxiety he shewed to get back the manuscript appears to have proceeded from a determination to destroy every scrap of his poetry that he could possibly collect. Nothing could be found after his death but what pieces he had sent to different correspondents, which were collected, and the different variations submitted to the editor of his works published by Mr. Crichton.
“These few particulars are all I can recollect of the man I so highly esteemed, and I fear you will think them a great deal more than are worth relating.”
We also subjoin the following postscript to one of Mr. S.'s letters.
“You may expect the book I promised you a sight of in a few days. It contains the first verse of the major part of his Songs. Those of which the other verses are lost were chiefly imita
* This piece is called Why unite to banish Care, and will be found in the Appendix-the last two stanzas are for the first time added.-Elitor.
tions of old Scotish songs, written after a perusal of Johnson's Musical Museum, and I am inclined to think they would have added but little to the author's fame although he had preserved them. * He had collected their respective melodies, and I had promised to arrange them with an easy accompaniment for the pianoforte. I believe that Mr. Blaikie, of this town, had made an offer to engrave the whole for publication, but the idea of publishing in this form was soon abandoned as being too expensive."
After these copious extracts we have little to say. It is our opinion, however, that the genius of Tannahill could not, as one of his biographers would insinuate, be equally suited to other species of poetical composition besides those which his inclination at first led him to prefer, and habit at length had rendered easy.
His strength lay in song.writing, and to it he, for the most part, judiciously confined himself.
He once attempted dramatic composition, but without success. The piece to which we refer was published in the first edition of his poems, but omitted wisely in every subsequent one. In ballad-writing he also failed. His Connel and Flora is read without emotion, and never thought of again after perusal. This piece has none of that noble simplicity of diction and disregard of meretricious ornament which distinguish the ballad from every other kind of poetry, and give it all its peculiar charm. With the exception of one or two stanzas, Connel and Flora glisters in all the shewy and unmeaning garniture of wordiness and fullness of sounding epithet that disgusted us so much in the ballad-mongery lately in vogue, but now happily rooted out and despised, never, it is hoped, to be again cultivated or esteemed.
The Hauntet Wud is a bonnie little poem, considered as such, but far from being anything like an imitation of Johu Barbour. After Chatterton, there have sprouted up many ini. tators of the language--not of the spirit of the ancient poets. That “marvellous boy,” with all the holes the antiquarian may pick in his doublet, is still the matchless prince of literary impostors, and the closest imitator, if not in sentiment and style, at least in language, of the models of slumbering ages. Tannahill had neither leisure, education, nor means, to qualify
* The fragments here spoken of will be found in the Appendix-Elitor.