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ed he would, for the honour of genius, give it a fair and candid trial. Excuse me for obtruding these hints upon your consideration.*
.: No. LIX.
... MR. THOMSON TO MR. BURNS.
Edinburgh, 14th October, 1794.
THE last eight days have been devoted to the re-examination of the Scottish collections. I have read, and sung, and fiddled, and considered, 'till I am half blind and wholly stupid. The few airs I have added, are inclosed.
Peter Pindar has at length sent me all the songs
* Our bard had before received the same advice, and certainly took it so far into consideration, as to have cast about for a subject.
I expected" from him, which are in general elegant and beautiful.'' Have you heard of a London collecz tion of Scottish airs and songs, just published by Mr. Ritson, an Englishman. I shall send you a copy. His introductory essay on the subject is curious, and evinces great reading and research, but does not decide the question as to the origin of our melodies ; though he shews clearly that Mr, Tytler, in his ingenious dissertation, has adduced no sort of proof of the hypothesis he wished to establish ; and that his classification of the airs according to the æras when they were composed, is-mere fancy and conjecture. On John Pinkerton, esq. he has no mercy; but consigns him to damnation ! He snarls at my publication, on the score of Pindar being engaged to write songs for it; uncandidly and unjustly leaving it to be inferred, that the songs of Scottish writers had been sent a packing to make room for Peter’s! Of you he speaks with some respect, but gives you a passing hit or two, for daring to dress up a little, some old foolish songs for the Museum, His sets of the Scottish airs are taken, he says, from the oldest collections and best authorities : many of them, however, haye such a strange aspect, and are so unlike the sets which are sung by every person of taste, old or young, in town or country, that we can scarcely recognize the features of our favorites. By going to the oldest collections of our music, it does not follow that we find the melodies in their original state, These melodies
had been preserved, we know not how long, by oral communication, before being collected and printed: and as different persons sing the same air very differently, according to their accurate or confused recollection of it, so even supposing the first collectors to have possessed the industry, the taste and discernment to chuse the best they could hear, (which is far from certain,) still it must evidently be a chance, whether the collections exhibit any of the melodies in the state they were first composed. In selecting the melodies for my own collection, I have been as much guided by the living as by the dead. Where these differed, I preferred the sets that appeared to me the most simple and beautiful, and the most generally approved : and without meaning any compliment to my own capability of chusing,' or speaking of the pains I have taken, I flatter myself that my sets will be found equally freed from vulgar errors on the one hand, and affected graces on the other,
By this morning's post I have your list, and in general, I highly approve of it. I shall, at more leisure, give you a critique on the whole. Clarke goes to your town by to-day's fly, and I wish you would call on him and take his opinion in general : you know his taste is a standard. He will return here again in a week or two; so, please do not miss asking for him. One thing I hope he will do, persuade you to adopt my favorite, Craigieburn. wood, in your selection: It is as great a favorite of his as of mine. The lady on whom it was made, is one of the finest women in Scotland; and in fact (entre nous) is in a manner to me what Sterne's Eliza was to him-a mistress, or friend, or what you will,
in the guileless simplicity of Platonic love. (Now don't put any of your squinting constructions on this, or have any clishmaclaiver about it among our acquaintances.) I assure you that to my lovely friend you are indebted for many of your best songs of mine. Do you think that the sober, gin-horse routine of existence, could inspire a man with life, and love, and joy-could fire him with enthusiasm, or melt him with pathos, equal to the genius of your book ?-no! no!--Whenever I want to be more than ordinary in song; to be in some degree equal to your diviner airs; do you imagine I fast and pray for the celestial emanation ? Tout au contraire ! I have a glorious recipe; the very one that for his own use was invented by the divinity of healing and poetry, when erst he piped to the flocks of Admetus. I put myself in a regimen of admiring a fine woman; and in proportion to the adorability of her charms, in proportion you are delighted with my verses. The lightning of her eye is the godhead of Parnassus, and the witchery of her smile, the divinity of Helicon !
To descend to business ; if you like my idea of, When she cam ben she bobbit, the following stanzas of mine, altered a little from what they were formerly when set to another air, may perhaps do in stead of worse stanzas.