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AULD LANG SYNE. 7
AULD LANG SYNE.
Robert Burns was born near Ayr, Scotland, January 25, 1759, and died in Dumfries on the 21st day of July, 1796. His loves and his sorrows, his joys and his revelings, are as well known as his "Highland Mary" and his " Auld Lang Syne." Here is his own account of his first love and his first song: " You know our country custom of coupling a man and woman together as partners in the labors of harvest. In my fifteenth autumn, my partner was a bewitching creature, a year younger than myself. My scarcity of English denies me the power of doing her justice in that language; but you know the Scottish idiom—she was a bonnie, sweet, sonsie lass. In short, she altogether, unwittingly to herself, initiated me in that delicious passion, which, in spite of acid disappointment, gin-horse prudence, and book-worm philosophy, I hold to be the first of human joys, our dearest blessing here below! How she caught the contagion, I cannot tell; you medical people talk much of infection from breathing the same air, the touch, &c.; but I never expressly said I loved her. Indeed, I did not know myself why I liked so much to loiter behind with her, when returning in the evening from our labors; why the tones of her voice made my heartstrings thrill like an AEian harp; and, particularly, why my pulse beat such a furious rattan when I looked and fingered over her little hand, to pick out the cruel nettle-stings and thistles. Among her other love-inspiring qualities, she sung sweetly; and it was her favorite reel to which I attempted giving an embodied vehicle in rhyme. I was not so presumptuous as to imagine I could make verses like printed ones composed by men who had rireek and Latin; but my girl sung a song, which was said to be composed by a small country laird's son, on one of his father's maids, with whom he was in love! and I saw no reason why I might not rhyme as well as he; for, excepting that he could smear sheep, and cast peats, his father living in the moor-lands, he had no more scholar craft than myself."
Of the world-famous " Auld Lang Syne," only the second and third stanzas were written by Burns, although he retouched them all. A song bearing that title can be traced in broadsides to the latter part of 1600, and the phrase " auld lang syne," was current in the time of Charles I. Allan Ramsay wrote an inferior set of words to the original air, beginning—
'• Should aukl acquaintance be forgot, Though they return with scars ?"
In a letter to Mrs. Duulop, dated December 17, 1788, Burns says: "Your meeting, which you so well describe, with your old school-fellow and friend, was truly interesting. Out upon the ways of the world!—they spoil these ' social offspring of the heart.' Two reterans of the 'men of the world' would have met with little more heart-workings than wo hacks worn out on the road. Apropos, is not the Scotch phrase, 'auld lang syne' exceedingly expressive ? There is an old song and tune which has often thrilled through my soul; I shall give you the verses in the other sheet. Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment!" It is impossible to tell which set of words with this refrain Burns refers to in his letter to Mrs. Dunlop; for there are at least three which antedate his. Here is the best, given by Chambers, in his " Scottish Songs." It bears the date 1716 :
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never thought upon, The flames of love extinguished.
And fully past and gone ? Is thy kind heart now grown so cold
In that loving breast of thine, That thou canst never once reflect
On Old Long Syne?
Where are thy protestations,
Thy vows, and oathes, my dear, Thou mad'st to me, and I to thee,
In regester yet clear? Is faith and truth so violate
To the immortal gods divine, That thou canst never once reflect
On Old Long Syne ?