Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

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spondence he tenaciously held his original opinion of' English' verses and his choice of airs. So far he had the best of the arrangement, for Burns wrote many pieces which he disapproved, and for airs which he disliked. Only five songs written for Scot-ish Airs were published in Burns's lifetime, and these are more or less incorrectly printed. For the rest, Thomson was under no control, and without compunction "altered the text when it suited him, added stanzas, and adapted them for unauthorized airs. There was, as I have said, little sympathy between the two men. Thomson cared nothing for a human lyric, and preferred the insipid compositions then current. Burns told him ' exotic rural imagery is always comparatively flat,' and, in another place, ' You are apt to sacrifice sImplicity in a ballad for pathos, sentiment, and point.' Again, he tries to console Thomson by saying that the English singer will find no difficulty in the sprinkling of the Scot­tish language in his songs *; or refuses pointblank to change the orthography of a piece with the remark, ' I'll rather write a new song altogether than make this English V But Thomson meddled and muddled on without regarding him. Airs and verses alike had to submit to his editorial jurisdiction. Burns had to complain that the accent of his The-lea rig had been altered, and advised him to ' let our natural airs preserve their native features.' But Thomson preferred his own way; and when Burns refused to rewrite some disputed lines, he altered them for him. 'The story of Scots wha hae (which I have told in Note 255) illustrates particularly the fashion in which Burns was constrained to change metre in order to have his ode fitted to a melody which he had not contemplated. And though most of the songs written for Thomson were spontaneous, and sent to him for approval, he would never return those he considered unsuitable, but retained them in the manner described. Nevertheless, shortly before Burns died, he assigned to Thomson without consideration the absolute copyright of the songs he had sent to him.
Thus Scotish Airs, in five sumptuous folio volumes completed in 1818, came to contain much of the text of Burns in an untrust­worthy form. Its airs, too, with their many editorial Improvements, are to be disregarded as too artificial. When it is known that 1 Works, vi. 247.                               a Note 51.