Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

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The tune attached to the ballad in Johnson's Museum is a masterpiece of musical dullness, and it retarded the vocal popularity of the verses for more than half a century. The music in Barsanti's Scots Tunes, 1742, and in McGibbon's Scots Tunes, 1768, iv. 9}, is evidently a remote and unsingable translation of the tablature tune of 1692. Where Helen lies now given in the text is from Mr. John Glen, who favoured me with a copy. Various traditional melodies of the ballad are in use, but the sImplest is that in Graham's Songs of Scotland, 1849, I'll. 104.
•No. 351. O, heard ye of a silly harper? The title of this ballad The Lochmaben harper is in Burns's handwriting in Gray's MS. Lists before the year 1790, as an instruction for the insertion of the verses in the Scots Musical Museum, which however were not published until 1803. Several songs of Burns named on the same sheet were not published in the Museum before 1796 and 1803. It is necessary to make this statement because Professor Child does not appear to have known that Burns contributed the ballad to the Museum, where it was originally published with its melody, and because very nearly the same copy is in the Glenriddell MS. 1791. Burns's connexion with Riddell is described in the note on No. 344 supra, and the same remark is applicable to the Lochmaben harper as to Tarn Lin. Stenhouse says : ' This fine old ballad with its original melody was recovered by Burns and transmitted to Johnson for his Museum' {Jllust., p.497). The manuscript has disappeared. None of the original Burns papers belonging to the sixth volume of the Museum are in the British Museum. They seem to have been dispersed in Edinburgh shortly after publication, and some have not yet been recovered. The Lochmaben harper was originally published in Scott's Minstrelsy, 1802, considerably varied and altered, but I have no doubt that the Museum MS. was in Burns's handwriting. The last unnecessary stanza in Scott is a modern interpolation, as follows:—
' Then aye he harped, and aye he carped,
Sae sweet were the harpings he let them hear; He was paid for the foal he had never lost And three times ower for the gude gray mare.' Both the versions of Burns and of Scott can be seen in Child's Ballads. The Lochmaben harper is an excellent humorous specimen of Scottish ballad literature, and is notable as containing one of the very few references to the harp in Scotland. Since the end of the fifteenth century the use of the instru­ment has ceased, and even then it was little used. The harp of Mary Queen of Scots is said to be preserved, but at no time for many centuries has the harp been a national instrument. Its introduction and cultivation were Celtic.
The tune in the text is from the Glenriddell MS. 1791, and, with the exception of a clerical error in the MS. here corrected, is the same as that printed in the Museum, No. J79, with the verses.
*M"o. 352. Uae birdies sang the mirky hour. Cromek's Scotish Songs, 1810, ii. 196. This fragment sent to Tytler belongs probably to more than one song, and refers to events occurring at least as early as the seventeenth century. Sir Walter Scott supposed that one of the characters might be John Scott, the sixth son of the Laird of Harden, murdered in Ettrick Forest by his kinsmen the Scotts of Gilmancleugh. There is also a tradition that the hero was murdered by the brother either of his wife or betrothed bride. The first printed' Yarrow' verses are not the oldest. From some tradition similar to that in the text, both Ramsay and Hamilton of Bangour wrote ballads with almost the same opening line ' Busk ye, busk ye, my bonny bonny bride'; both published in the Tea-Table Miscellany, 1725. Hamilton's song was reprinted in a small unauthorized edition of his Poems in 1748, remarkable for a preface attributed to Adam Smith, the celebrated author of the Wealth of Nations. The well-known ' Willy's rare and Willy's fair' was first printed in the Orpheus
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