Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

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The tune of the song, a great favourite of Burns, is in Oswald's Companion, c. 1756, viii. 11, entitled Port Alhol, or, as in the Museum, Miss Muir. In the poet's copy of Oswald's collection he has styled the tune ' exquisite,'
Wo. 44. O, saw ye bonie Lesley ? Thomson's Scotish Airs, 1798, 33, 'written for this work by Robert Brims.' Air, The Collier's bonie lassie. Written in honour of Miss Lesley Baillie. A copy was sent in a letter to Mrs. Dunlop, August 22, 1792. 'Mr. B[aillie] with his two daughters, ac­companied by Mr. H------of G------, passing through Dumfries a few days ago,
on their way to England, did me the honour of calling on me; on which I took my horse (though God knows I could ill spare the time), and ac­companied them fourteen or fifteen miles, and dined and spent the day with them. . 'Twas about nine when I left them; and riding home, I composed the following ballad. . . . You must know that there is an old ballad begin­ning with My bonie Lizzy Baillie, I'll rowe thee in my plaidie, Sec, so I parodied it as follows, which is literally the first copy.' The old ballad referred to is in Herd's Scottish Songs, 1776, ii. 3, and in the Scots Musical Museum, 1796, No. 436 (the first stanza omitted), with the following pretty melody, which Burns communicated to the editor:—
On November 8, 1792, Bums sent a copy of his song to George Thomson, who without authority altered the last line of the second stanza.
The tune, The collier's dochter or The collier's bonie dochler, is very well known on both sides of the Border. It is in Leyden's MS., c. 1690 ; in Playford's Original Scotch Tunes, 1700; Siniler's MS., 1710; Stewart's Reels, 1762, 43; and entitled the Nine pint Cogie in M"Farlane's MS., 1741, and with the words by Ramsay in the Orpheus Caledonius, 1725, No. 44. See Notes on Nos. 208 and 232.
No. 45. "While larks with little wing. Gurrie, Works, 1800, iv. 88, entitled ' Phillis the fair. Tune, Robin Adair' Phillis was the sister of Bonie Jean, of Song No. ^9. The verses were written in August, 1793, and sent to Thomson with this note : ' I likewise tried my hand on Robin Adair, and you will probably think with little success; but it is such a damned cramp, out-of-the-way measure, that I despair of doing anything better to it.' . . . Burns, although dissatisfied with Phillis the fair, did not carry out his intention of writing a Scots song for Robin Adair.
The tune Robin Adair or Eire a ruin is a captivating melody entitled Aileen a roon in the Caledonian Pocket Companion, 1753, v. 21, and M°Lean's Scots Tunes, 1772, 28. Professional vocalists usually load it with tawdry decorations, and throw rhythm overboard.
Burns has a note on the nationality of the air in his letter to Thomson of August, 1793. 'I have met with a musical Highlander in Breadalbane's Fencibles, which are quartered here, who assures me that he well remembers his mother singing Gaelic songs to both Robin Adair and Gramachree. They certainly have more of the Scots than the Irish taste in them. This man came from the vicinity of Inverness, so it could not be any intercourse with Ireland that could bring them; except what I shrewdly suspect to be the case—the