Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

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424
HISTORICAL NOTES
Robert Burns,' to preserve the melody of an old song. Stenhouse records ' There is another, and a very old song, to the same air, but it is quite inad­missible.' I can. find no record of the very old song with the rhythm. The ale-wife of Cockpen is a good match for the laird of Song No. lgi. He may have been a customer, -and indulged himself in singing at her board his favourite song of Brose and hitter.
I have not found the tune Scroggam before its appearance in the Museum. It is not composed on the lines of the old Scottish scales, the major sixths and sevenths of the modern minor scale being rarely, if at_ all, used in antique, Scottish melodies.
No. 212. John Anderson my jo, John. Scots Musical Museum, 1790, No. 260, signed ' B.' InMS. List—' Mr. Burns's old words,'and in the Interleaved Museum,' This Song is mine.' Thomson's Scotish Airs, 1799, ji. with additional spurious stanzas, first printed in Brash and Reid's Chap-book, 1796. Dr. Currie, in Works, 1800, iv. 302, published the correct words and warned the public against the spurious stanzas, but in many editions of Burns they are still inserted as part of the original song.
In Percy's Reliques, 1765, are printed two curious stanzas, entitled John Anderson my jo.A Scotish song. The verses are in the form of a dialogue between a man and a woman, and the matter is more provocative of family discord than connubial bliss. The woman begins :—
' John Anderson my jo, cum in as ye gae bye, and ye sail get a sheip's heid weel baken in a pye; Weel baken in a pye, and the haggis in a pat; John Anderson my jo, cum in, and ze's get that.'
She informs the man on inquiry that she has five bairns, but three of them are not the guidman's. In subsequent editions of Percy's Reliques, the five bairns are turned into seven—two legitimate, and five illegitimate—most likely to round off the pretty invention that the verses are an allegory on the Romish sacraments. The authority for the verses was not given. In the Bishop's preface to his fourth edition it is said ' where any variation occurs from the former Impression it will be understood to have been given on the authority of that MS.' This statement caused an infinity of trouble until it was discovered that very many pieces in the Reliques, including_/M» Anderson myjo, are not in the MS. at all. The invention of the sacramental allegory gave an historical reputation to a tradition which has continued to circulate ever since. Percy probably knew Haile's specimens of the Gttde and Godlie Ballads, 1765; but no song like John Anderson my jo is there, nor in the complete collection since published. Percy is responsible for saying that the song is as old as the Reformation, and that his verses are a satire on the Church of Rome. It may be so, but there is no historical evidence. I may here remark that the description ' old words' which Burns gave to many of his songs was very elastic. In the case of John Anderson my jo he adopted only the title or first line of the song, the rest is entirely original; and the subject has nothing in common with the verses ' sung by the choice spirits' of the eighteenth century. In that curious surreptitious small volume known as the Merry Muses is the 'old' song beginning :—
' John Anderson my jo, John, I wonder what you mean, To lie sae lang i' the mornin And sit sae late at e'en ?
Ye'll blear a' your een, John, And why do ye so ?
Come sooner to yonr bed at e'en John Anderson, my jo.'
The complete song in Richardson's Masque, c. 1770,292, cannot be repeated here. I know of no other Scottish song than this one answering to the title. For further light on the subject, see Note 324. Other three songs marked






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