Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

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368                        HISTORICAL NOTES
The tnne in the Museum is an adaptation of a Perthshire melody which Burns heard in his Highland tour. In evidence of Bnrns's attention to musical details for his songs, his instructions to Johnson for the tune of this song may be cited from the MS. in the British Museum: ' The song will not sing to your tune; but theie is a Perthshire tune in McDonald's collection of Highland Airs which is much admired in this country; I intended the verses to sing to that air. It is on page 17, and No. 112. There is another air in the same collection, an Argyleshire air, which with a trifling alteration will do charmingly. It is on page 20, and No. ijj. The alterations are: in the fourth bar of the first and third strains, which are to be the tune, instead of the crotchet C, and the quavers G and E, at the beginning of the bar make an entire minim in E, I mean E, the lowest line,' &c. &c. Johnson printed the song with both the melodies here cited by Burns, and that in our text is the last-named in McDonald's Airs, 1784, No. ijj, slightly varied in Johnson's Museum.
Ho. 40. There was a lass, and she was fair. Currie, Works, 1800, iv. 79; Thomson's Scotish Airs, 1805, 152. The MS. is in Brechin Castle. Written for Jean, daughter of John McMurdo of Dumfries. Stephen Clarke, the professional musical editor of the Museum, was engaged as singing-master to the family, and Burns and he often met about this time. A portion of the song was sent to Thomson in April, 1793, with the copy of an unpririted air. The complete song was transmitted on July 2, when Burns states that ' Mr. Clarke, who wrote down the air from Mrs. Burns's wood-note wild, is very fond of it, and has given it celebrity by teaching it to some young ladies of the first fashion here. If you do not like the air enough to give it a place in your collection, please return me the air; the song you may keep, as I remember it.' Later, he urged Thomson to make a point of publishing the song to its own tune, in his next number, informing him that the old name of the air was There was a lass, and she was fair.
Thomson rejected the ' beautiful little air' which Burns sent, and printed the song to Willie was a wanton wag. The traditional air of the song is now irrecoverably lost. A well-known tune, Bonny Jean (of Aberdeen), which fits these verses of Burns, is in the Orpheus Caledonius, 1725, No. 18, and many other publications of the eighteenth century, but it is not the melody which Burns meant.
No. 60. O Fhilly, happy be that day. Cnrrie, Works, 1800, iv. 201. 'Tune, The sow's tail.' Scotish Airs, 1805,160, Thomson suggested verses for the Jacobite air, The stnv's tail to Geordie. Burns replied that he was delighted with the tune, and proposed to write verses for it, which he completed on November 19, 1794.
The original Jacobite song is a bitter vulgar satire on the ' wee wee German lairdie' and ' Madame Kilmansegge,' whom George I brought with him from Hanover. The Countess of Darlington, nee Kilmansegge, was a very large-sized noblewoman, known in England as ' The Elephant. The Scots, even less polite, compared her to a more undignified animal in the song, which now occupies the book-shelves of the student of manners. One stanza out of eight in Hogg's Jacobite Relics, 1819, i. 91, may be quoted :— ' It's Geordie, he came up the town,
Wi' a bunch o' turnips on his crown; "Aha!" quo she, "I'll pull them down, And turn my tail to Geordie."
Chorus :—The sow's tail is till him yet,' &c. &c.
The tune—very popular in Scotlandin the eighteenth century—is a remark­ably easy-flowing melody. It has dropped out of use, and ought to be better known. The music is in McGlashan's Scots Measures, 1781, jy, and Aird's Airs, 1782, ii. No. 182.