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guerre of my muse. Will you, as I am inferior to none of you in enthusiastic attachment to the poetry and music of old Caledonia, and, since you request it, have chearfully promised my mite of assistance will you let me have a list of your airs, with the first line of the printed verses you intend for them, that I may have an opportunity of suggesting any alteration that may occur to me. You know ’tis in the way of my trade; still leaving you, gentlemen, the undoubted right of publishers, to approve, or reject, at your pleasure, for your own publication. A propos, if you are for English verses, there is, on my part, an end of the matter. Whether in the simplicity of the ballad, or the pathos of the song, I can only hope to please myself in being allowed at least a sprinkling of our native tongue. English verses, particularly the works of Scotsmen, that have merit, are certainly very eligible. Tweedside ; Ah! the poor shepherd's mournful fate; Ah! Chloris, could I now but sit, &c. you cannot mend; but such insipid stuff as, To Fanny fair could I impart, &c. usually set to The Mill Mill O, is a disgrace to the collections in which it has already appeared, and would doubly disgrace a collection that will have the very superior merit of yours. But more of this in the farther prosecution of the business, if I am called on for my strictures and amendments--I say, amendments ; for I will not alter except where I myself at least think that I amend.
As As to any remuneration, you may think my songs either above or below price ; for they shall absolutely be the one or the other. In the honest enthusiasm with which I embark in your undertaking, to talk of money, wages, fee, hire, &c. would be downright prostitution of soul! A proof of each of the songs that I compose or amend, I shall receive as a favor. In the rustic phrase of the season, “ Gude speed 5 the wark !"
I am, Sir, your very humble servant,
P.S. I have some particular reasons for wishing my interference to be known as little as possible.
Mr. THOMSON TO MR. BURNS.
Edinburgh, 13th Oct. 1792. Dear Sir,
I RECEIVED with much satisfaction your pleasant and obliging letter, and I return my warmest acknowledgments for the enthusiasm with which you
have entered into our undertaking. We have now 'no doubt of being able to produce a collection, highly deserving of public attention, in all respects.
I agree with you in thinking English verses, that have merit, very eligible, wherever new verses are necessary; because the English becomes every year, more and more, the language of Scotland ; but, if you mean that no English verses, except those by Scottish authors, ought to be admitted, I am half inclined to differ from you, I should consider it unpardonable to sacrifice one good song in the Scottish dialect, to make room for English verses ; but, if we can select a few excellent ones suited to the unprovided or ill-provided airs, would it not be the very bigotry of literary patriotism to reject such, merely because the authors were born south of the Tweed ? Our sweet air My Nanie 0, which in the collections is joined to the poorest stuff that Allan Ramsay ever wrote, beginning, While some for pleasure pawn their health, answers so finely to Dr. Percy's beautiful song, O Nancy wilt thou go with me, that one would think he wrote it on purpose for the air. However, it is not at all our wish to confine you to English verses : you shall freely be allowed a sprinkling of your native tongue, as you elegantly express it, and, moreover, we will patiently wait your own time. One thing only I beg, which is, that, however gay and sportive the muse
may be, she may always be decent. Let her not write what beauty would blush to speak, nor wound that charming delicacy, which forms the most precious dowry of our daughters.* * I do not conceive the song to be the most proper vehicle for witty and brilliant conceits : simplicity, I believe, should be its prominent feature ; but, in some of our songs, the writers have confounded simplicity with coarseness and vulgarity ; although, between the one and the other, as Dr. Beattie well observes, there is as great a difference as between a plain suit of clothes and a bundle of rags. The humorous ballad, or pathetic complaint, is best suited to our artless melodies; and more interesting indeed in all songs than the most pointed wit; dazzling descriptions, and flowery fancies.
With these trite observations, I send you eleven of the songs, for which it is my wish to substitute others of your writing. I shall soon transmit the rest, and, at the same time, a prospectus of the whole collection : and you may believe we will receive any hints that you are so kind as to give for improveing the work, with the greatest pleasure and thankfulness.
MR. BURNS TO MR. THOMSON.
MY DEAR SIR,
LET me tell you, that you are too fastidious in your ideas of songs and ballads. I own that your criticisms are just ; the songs you specify in your list have all but one the faults you remark in them; but who shall mend the matter? Who shall rise up and say—Go to, I will make a better? For instance, on reading over The Lea-rig, I immediate, ly set about trying my hand on it, and, after all, I could make nothing more of it than the following, which Heaven knows is poor enough.
When o'er the hill the eastern star,
Tells bughtin-time is near, my jo;
Return sae dowf and weary O;
Wi' dew are hanging clear, my jo,