Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

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more than that of any ordinary amateur, his attachment to melody and wide knowledge of Scottish music, together with his genius, fully equipped him for writing verse to illustrate the anonymous airs of his country.
It was in the year 1787 that Burns's opportunity came, and he was able to get his verses published with music. From that time forwards he wrote scarcely anything else but songs. For the mere love of the thing, and without fee or reward, ungrudgingly he worked day and night for the last nine years of his life to illus­trate the airs of Scotland, and he died with the pen in his hand. His farming brought him no riches, his business of gauger only weariness, his songs nothing at all—then. But it is by his songs that he is best known and will be longest remembered. This he forecast himself: yet, curiously enough, only sixteen songs are in the last authorized edition of his Works1, though by this time he had probably contributed upwards of two hundred to both John­son's Museum and Thomson's Scotish Airs. These he never publicly claimed, only disclosing himself as the author of some of them in private letters to intimate friends2. So that besides working voluntarily and simultaneously for these two collectors— neither of whom would have succeeded without his constant help —he even denied himself the name of authors.
A few words about the general musical rage of this time, and about these two music books in particular, may be useful at this place. It must be borne in mind that when Burns began to write
* Edition of 1794.
3 It is Important to remember, as a consequence of this, that all his songs in modern editions of his Works (except a fraction) have been accumulated by degrees, and are the insertions of a succession of editors. When Burns resolved in 1796 to publish a musical selection of his songs, death prevented him from carrying the resolution into effect {Works, vi. 2jf).
' With the exception of a few songs bearing his name in the Index, all his writings in Johnson's Museum were published anonymously during his life. His name is attached to a large number of songs in many copies of the Museum, but not in those of the first issue; the insertion of it in later reprints being posthumous. Many erroneous inferences have been drawn from the assumption that Burns acknowledged the insertion of his name. Compare the copy of the Museum in the British Museum, where Burns's songs in vols, ii.-v. are all anonymous, except a few with B. and R. marked by the publisher. A description of the original edition of the Museum is in the Bibliography following. I possess three copies of some of the early volumes, all with different title-pages.