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Sheath and Knife, as the ballad is now known in Child's Ballads, 1881, No. 16, is a specimen of several gruesome metrical tales which mark antiquity, and with no particular locality attached to them, as the legends are dispersed throughout Europe.
The tune is rather commonplace, with no particular Scottish flavour.
*No. 361. A nobleman liv'd in a village of late. Scots Musical Museum, 1792, No. 372, entitled The poor thresher, which Burns transmitted to the editor with the following note : 'It is rather too long, but it is very pretty, and never that I know of was printed before.' The MS. of this poor sentimental ballad in the handwriting of Burns is in the British Museum, and it appealed to him as a tiller of the soil out of which he could not extract a living. In sixteen stanzas it describes the work and life of an honest hardworking peasant who, when out walking, casually met a nobleman. The result was a giit of ' forty good acres of land,' and the penultimate stanza is:—
'Because thou art loving and kind to thy wife, I'll make thy days easy the rest of thy life; I give it for ever to thee and thy heirs, So hold thy industry with diligent cares.'
The luck of this peasant was better than 'the three acres and a cow' of the modern politician. I have not thought it necessary to print the sixteen stanzas of the original, which is of English ancestry. A different version is The nobleman and the thresherman in Bell's Songs of the Peasantry. As The thresher and the squire another Oxford traditional set of verses has recently been published in English County Songs, 1893, 68, with a tune quite different from that in our text, which was originally published in the Museum with the verses of Burns.
Cockabendy. This title is in the handwriting of Burns in Gray's MS. Lists with the note ' Mr. B— words.'
Wha *s fou now, my jo is in the same list marked ' Mr. B— words.'
Fair Emma. The note here is ' Pair Emma follows Charlotte a song, the original name unknown'; with the remark from Burns's hand ' Mr. B. next. Dr. B[lacklock].'
Can ye leave me so, laddie ? This is the title, with the note in Burns's handwriting ' Mr. Burns's old words,' contained in Law's MS. List. The following fragment in Herd's MS. is most probably the material on which Burns based his verses:—
1 Can ye leave me. so, laddie, Can ye leave me so; Can ye leave me comfortless For anither jo ?'