Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

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392                           HISTORICAL NOTES
next version sent to John Eallantine. The following is an extract from a letter, dated March' n, 1791, to Alexander Cunningham, enclosing a copy of the song: ' I have this evening sketched out a song which I had a great mind to send yon, though I foresee that it will cost you another groat of postage. . . . My song is intended to sing to a strathspey, or reel, of which I am very fond, called in Cumming's Collection of Strathspeys BallendallocKs Reel, and in other collections that I have met with, it is known by the name of Cambdelmore. It takes three stanzas of four lines each to go through the whole tune. I shall give the song to Johnson for the fourth volume of his publication of Scots Songs which he has just now in hand.' This quotation disposes of the theory of Robert Chambers that The banks 0' Doon was written in 1787 for Peggy Kennedy, the unfortunate lady referred to in the note on Song No. //.
The recovery of the letter to Cunningham reveals the fact that the song was written for a particular tune practically unknown. Neither the words nor the music is in Johnson's Museum, and both are here printed together for the first time. It is entitled Cambdelmore in Bremner's Reels, 1761, 92; and in Stewart's Reels, 1763, jr, as Ballendalloch • as Ballendalloch s Reel in Cummiug's Strathspeys, 17S0, 7; and Gordon Castle in McGlashan's Strath­spey Reels, 1780, 26.
Ho. 122. Ye flowery banks o* bonie Doon. Cromek's Reliques, 1808, 77. The second version of the song, which was enclosed in an undated letter addressed to John Ballantine, Ayr. The following is an extract: ' While here I sit, sad and solitary, by the side of a fire in a little country inn, and drying my wet clothes, in pops a poor fellow of a sodger, and tells me he is going to Ayr. By Heavens! say I to myself, with a tide of good spirits which the magic of that sound, Auld toon 0' Ayr, conjured up, I will send my last song to Mr. Ballantine.' The poet at this time was most likely on one of his excise expeditions. Ye flowery banks 0' bonie Doon is a distinct Improvement on the first version, and Cromek's opinion of it in comparison with the third or popular set has been endorsed by all subsequent commentators. The redundant feet in the second and fourth lines of the popular stanza can easily be spared, and as a poem this short metre version is superb compared with it, although it is now hopeless to expect that the popular version will be displaced.
Mo. 123. Ye banks and braes o* borne Doon. In Scots Musical Museum, 1792, No. 3J4, signed ' B,' entitled The banks 0' Doon. Thomson's Scotish Airs, 1798,47. The MS. is in the British Museum. 'Mr. B.'s old words' (Law's MS. List). Two bathetic stanzas, written by a music publisher, were added to the song, and printed in the Rocket Encyclopedia, Glasgow, 1816, i. sg. Why this, the popular version, was written in a different measure from the other two, has never been accurately ascertained. It is probably true that Burns altered the song against his will, but nowhere does he say so. It is quite certain that he approved the air now so popular (although it may be remarked in passing that the pen is drawn through the title Caledonian Hunt's Delight in the MS. in the British Museum), for in a letter to George Thomson in November, 1794, he recommended it for insertion in Scotish Airs at the cost of excluding another song to make room for it. He relates the story of the tune being composed ' a good many years ago' by an amateur playing on the black keys of the harpsichord. A copy was given to Gow, who entitled it The Caledonian Hunt's delight, and printed it for the first time in his second collection of Strathspey Reels', 1788, that is six years before Burns related its history to Thomson, and four years before it was printed with the verses in the Scots Musical Museum. In 1789, Burns wrote There was on a Time (Song No. 2j8) for the same tune.
The origin of the air has been called in question, and its nationality disputed. The late William Chappell asserted that the amateur effected nothing more than the alteration of a note here and there of a melody which previously