Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

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IX. MISCELLANEOUS                       477
On comparing the song in the text with the original ballad, it will be seen where Burns excels. He depicts the audacity of McPherson in vigorous nervous language, he puts no apologies into his month, but paints him as an enemy to society, hardened and revengeful to the end, disdaining to be a coward, and dying like a man. Of these verses Carlyle says: ' but who except Burns, could have given words to such a sonl, words that we never listen to without a strange barbarous, half poetic feeling.' The song made a very strong Impression on Carlyle, for many years after he wrote to Edward Fitzgerald : ' One day we had Alfred Tennyson here; an unforgettable day. He stayed with us till late, we dismissed him with McPherson's farewell. Alfred's face grew darker and darker and I saw his lips slightly quivering.'
The tune is in Sinkler's MS. 1710, as Mcparsence's Testament; in the Caledo­nian Pocket Companion, c. 1755, vii. 14 ; and in McGibbon's Scots Tunes, 1768, 9.2, it is entitled M^Pherson's farewell, as in later publications.
Mo. 312. O, raging fortune's withering blast. Commonplace Book; and published in Cromek's Rcliques, 1808, }$). This apparently refers to the family misfortunes at the farm of Lochlea. Burns at this time tried to compose a melody for these verses—the only attempt of the kind he made—and remarks: ' 'Twas at this time I set about composing an air in the old Scotch style. I am not musical scholar enough to prick down my tune properly, so it can never see the light, and perhaps 'tis no great matter. The tune consisted of three parts so that the verses just went through the whole air' {Commonplace Book). The tune here referred to has never been seen and was probably destroyed.
No. 313. The gloomy night is gath'ring fast. Edinburgh Edition, 1787, )}o. Tune Roslin Castle. Scots Musical Museum, 1790, No. 284 ; Thomson's Scotish Airs, 1799, 8j. ' I had taken the last farewell of my few friends ; my chest was on the road to Greenock ; I had composed the last song I should ever measure in Caledonia ' The gloomy night is gathering fast.' (Letter to Dr. Moore.) A somewhat similar note is in Cromek s Reliques, but the leaf in the Interleaved Museum from which Cromek is supposed to have taken the note is now missing. Further details are given by Dr. Walker, who had them from Burns himself. The poet had left Dr. Lawrie's house at Newmilns after a visit which he expected to be the last; to reach his home he had to traverse a stretch of solitary moor some miles long, across the parish of Galston. The night was lowering and dark, cold showers came and went, the wind whistled through the rushes and long grass. The elements were in keeping with the poet's frame of mind, and in discomfort of body and cheerless-ness of spirit this splendid effusion was projected. The visit to Dr. Lawrie's took place about the close of September, 1786. At this or some other time Burns presented the following fragment to one of the daughters. The castle referred to is Newmilns, and the river is the Irvine.
' The night was still, and o'er the hill   | Sae merrily they danc'd the ring The moon shone on the Castle wa'; Frae e'enin till the cock did craw,
The mavis sang, while dewdrops hang And ay the o'erword o' the spring
Around her in the Castle wa';          I Was:—"Irvine's bairns are bonie a"!'
In neither of the musical collections above named was the proper tune printed with The Gloomy night is gath'ring fast, and in the Museum it is set to a worthless melody composed by Allan Masterton. In Scotish Airs the tune is Druimionn dubh (see Song No. 32) which Thomson names Farewell to Ayr. So far as I know the proper tune, Roslin Castle, has never been printed with this song. It is one of the best double tunes in Scottish collections, and admirably suited to express the poetry of Burns. It was first printed in McGibbon's Scots Tunes, 1746,^7, with the title House of Glams, and as Roslin Castle in the Caledonian Pocket Companion, 1752, iv._j. The first time it is set to words is m Bremner's Scots Songs (2nd series) 1757, 27, with Hewitt's song beginning