Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

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existed. On the difficulty of ascertaining the birth of tunes, Burns has a note in the same letter to Thomson as previously quoted: ' Now to shew you how difficult it is to trace the origin of our airs, I have heard it repeatedly asserted that this was an Irish air; nay, I met with an Irish gentleman, who affirmed he had heard it in Ireland among the old women ; while on the other hand, a lady of fashion, no less than a countess, informed me that the first person who introduced the air into this country was a baronet's kdy of her acquaintance, who took down the notes from an itinerant piper in the Isle of Man. How difficult then to ascertain the truth, respecting our poesy and music! I myself have lately seen a couple of ballads sung through the streets of Dumfries, with my name at the head of them as the author, though it was the first time I had ever seen them.'
The editor of Graham's Songs of Scotland states that he saw a street song, entitled List, list, to my story, with the water-mark of the year 1801 on the paper, on which the tune, the same as The banks 0' Doon, was stated to be an Irish air. The Popular Music of the Olden Time of William Chappell is a monument of industry and research. He had as keen an eye for a date, as a cross-examining barrister, and although he often complains about their absence on musical works, it is a curious fact, that his Popular Music bears no date of publication either on the title-page or elsewhere. He contested the Scottish origin of the Banks c' Doon, because it was in Dale's Collection of English Songs. In this case his claim breaks down, because this collection was issued in 1794, and subsequent to the same publisher's Scotch Songs of that year. Without any evidence he accuses Stephen Clarke of inventing the story related by Burns, and of making the tune himself from Dale's English tune, Lost, lost is my quiet, without the intervention of any amateur to fit it for the Scots Musical Museum. As previously stated, the air was first printed in 178S, six years before it was copied into the Museum, and this date fits the story Burns related to Thomson, in 1794, of the air having been made ' a good many years ago.' Whether it be a Scots, an English, or an Irish air need not be further discussed; it has been preserved for more than a century entirely through Burns's song, first printed with the music in Museum, 1792. In Aird's Airs, 1794, iv. No. ij2, Irish is affixed to the tune, entitled Caledonian Hunt's Delight, so that it appears there was a popular belief that the melody was Irish.
No. 124. O stay, sweet warbling woodlark, stay. This, known as Address to the woodlark, is in Thomson's Scotish Airs, 179S, 26. 'Written for this work by Robert Burns.' The MS. is in the Thomson collection. This and twelve other songs were sent to Thomson between April and August, 1795-They are evidence of the poet's remarkable mental activity although in bad health, and engaged in daily hard physical work. The first sketch of the song was copied by Scott-Douglas from a pencil MS. in the poet's handwriting. It is entitled Song.Composed on hearing a bird sing while musing on Chloris:
' Sing on, sweet songster o' the brier, Nae stealthy traitor-foot is near, O sooth a hapless lover's ear, And dear as life I'll prize thee.
' Again, again that tender part, That I may learn thy melting art, For surely that would touch the heart, O* her that still denies me.
' O, was thy mistress, too, unkind, And heard thee as the careless wind? For nocht but Love and Sorrow join'd Sic notes of woe could wauken.'