Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

360+ songs with lyrics, sheet music, historical notes & glossary.

Home Main Menu Singing & Playing Order & Order Info Support Search Voucher Codes

Share page  Visit Us On FB

Previous Contents Next
Law MS. as 'Mr. Bnrns's old words.' To his correspondents in general he pretended that several were not his work at all, but merely verses that he had heard or been told, and Johnson had no particular information about them. A number of the songs in the Museum bear the signature X or Z. On one of these, To the weaver s gin ye go, Burns made the following note in the Inter­leaved Museum. ' The chorus of this is old ; the rest of it is mine'; and then he goes on to make a general statement: ' Here, once for all, let me apologize for many silly compositions of mine in this work. Many beautiful airs wanted words; in the hurry of other avocations, if I could string a parcel of rhymes together anything near tolerable, I was fain to let them pass. He must be an excellent poet indeed, whose every performance is excellent.' A few examples from his Notes may serve to illustrate the subject. ' Go fetch to me a pint of wine' he described as old to Mrs. Dunlop, though he subsequently stated that he was the author of all but the first four lines. Strathallaris lament in the Museum is wholly original; in * I'm o'er young to marry yet,' signed 'Z,' the chorus alone is old; while in MPherson's Farewell the legend alone is all that he borrowed, and there is scarcely anything in his verses to compare with the old ballad. Of 'John Anderson my jo,' only the first line or title is borrowed, the rest is the very antipodes of the early and now unprintable verses. Again, the whole of the Gardener wi' his paidle (signed Z in the Museum) except the title is original, and the same is the case with Whistle o'er the lave o't. How far Burns revised or amended the so-called ' old ' version of Auld lang syne may be gathered from what follows; but it may be premised that no verses containing sentiments akin to those in Burns's song have ever been found, the only discovery being a ballad with the refrain ' On old lang syne, my jo' (quoted below) which from the context is the echo of another set of verses —or the reverse—at any rate, not at all in the spirit of Burns's world-wide ' Bacchanalian.'
The earliest mention of the precise vernacular phrase Auld lang syne is in that scurrilous work Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence Displayed, London, 1694, 64, where the author quotes the following from a sermon preached: ' Did you ever hear tell of a good God, and a cappet (pettish) prophet, Sirs ? The good God said, Jonah, now billy Jonah, wilt thou go to Nineveh, for Auld lang syne (oldkindness).' The italicized words in the original areprobably the reminiscence of a popular song, in which case it take's us back to the late part of the seventeenth century; or it may be only a phrase. Jamieson, in his Scottish Dictionary, describes syne as follows: ' To a native of this country it is very expressive, and conveys a soothing idea to the mind, as recalling the memory of joys that are past.' This is precisely what the whole of the song of Burns does, and it is the central source of its immense popularity. The word is Old English ; Robert de Brunne c. 1300, in a curious description of manners of the time, uses it thus :—
' The king said, as the knight gan ken
Drinkhaille! smiland on Rowen Rowen drank as her list,
And gave the king : sine him kist.'
It occurs in the works of Barbour, Dunbar, Douglas, and many of the older Scottish poets in the sense of then or since.
The germ of the song lies in an anonymous ballad of eight double stanzas in the Bannatyne MS. 1568 (folio 80 b), entitled Auld Kyndnes foryett, which begins ' This warld is all bot fenyeit fair,' and is the soliloquy of one in straitened circumstances, who, having seen better days, laments the ingratitude of those who formerly professed themselves friends. The fifth stanza may be quoted as a specimen of the poetry of the early part of the sixteenth century, and as an example of the masculine strength of the Scots language:—
F f 2