Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

360+ songs with lyrics, sheet music, historical notes & glossary.

Home Main Menu Singing & Playing Order & Order Info Support Search Voucher Codes

Share page  Visit Us On FB

Previous Contents Next
V. BACCHANALIAN AND SOCIAL                437
Another entitled 0 Caledon, 0 Caledon, is in the Laing collection, arid published in the Lockhart papers, 1817. Lastly a Jacobite ballad of six double stanzas in the True Loyalist, 1779, entitled Langsyne, is supposed to be written by a skulker in the year 1746, beginning :—
'Should old gay mirth and cheerfulness
Be dashed for evermore, Since late success in wickedness
Made Whigs insult and roar.'
which is the nearest approach to the social sentiment of Burns's song, but, with the exception of the title, there is nothing in it or in any of the poems quoted which could either have inspired Burns, or served as a model for his verses.
We have thus to fall back upon his statement of the street ballad which had never been in print nor in writing. We know the transformation which Burns effected in all songs of this class, so it is not to be wondered that his contemporaries who could discover no song of the kind should be sceptical as to his account of their origin. Cromek, in Scotish Songs, 1810, ii. 128, says: ' This ballad of Auld lang syne was also introduced in an ambiguous manner, though there exist proofs that the two best stanzas of it are indisputably his. He delighted to imitate and muse on the customs and opinions of his ancestors . . . all tended to confer on him that powerful gift of imitating the ancient ballads of his country with the ease and sImplicity of his models.' Cromek was a warm admirer of Burns's genius, and scoured Ayrshire and the Southern counties of Scotland in collecting memorials of the poet which he afterwards published ; but he does not state what authority he had for saying that Burns wrote only two stanzas of the song. George Thomson was also sceptical about the old original; to enhance his collection, however, he printed at the head of Auld Lang Syne in Scotish Airs, the observation that it was ' from an old MS. in the Editor's possession,' without mentioning Burns at all. This statement was misleading, for the MS. was less than five years old and in-the poet's'hand-writing. In the later editions the word ' old ' was deleted, and the head note reads, ' from a MS. in the Editor's possession ' with this remark—' The follow­ing exquisitely beautiful song was sent by Burns with information that it is an old song &c.... It is more than probable, however, that he said this in a playful humour, for the editor cannot help thinking that the song affords full evidence of Burns himself being the author.' By this time Auld lang syne had acquired considerable fame, and Thomson was obliged to correct his misleading note. We shall see, however, from the story of the modern melody that this is not the only instance of his having led the public astray.
The last writer who may be named on the subject is William Stenhouse, who affirms that Burns admitted to Johnson that three stanzas only were old, the other two being written by himself. This is a mere repetition of Cromek with the additional information that Burns told Johnson. The three supposed old stanzas are those relating to the cup, the -pint stoup and the gttde-willy waught. No trace of the ' old' song, if it ever existed in the particular of Burns, has been discovered ; and if according to his statement, that it never was in print, or even in manuscript, it never can be discovered: and further it is difficult to admit the assertion, unless he wrote the verses himself. After his warm eulogy on the song with the first copy to Mrs. Dunlop, he was bound to adhere to the anonymous origin, and as he continued to extol it he was not the man to open himself to ridicule by claiming it.
The air or tnne of our text is that for which Burns wrote his song. It should be remembered that this tune was associated with every song or ballad of Auld lang syne, including that of Burns up to the year 1799, when it was displaced by the present well known air to be described in the next Number. The music has an historical record of exactly a hundred years. Doubtless it belongs to a considerable part of the seventeenth century, although the music