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charity, touching our pity while offending our ears, ever known to bring out of his wallet a song so artistic in form and so adequate, so marvellously fitted to its theme, as " Auld Lang Syne ?" Burns, in short, overshot the mark, and at least one of his correspondents must have seen through his thin disguise. George Thomson could hardly have helped seeing in Burns himself the old man
“the old song of the olden times.” What object the Poet had in trying to throw dust in the eyes of Thomson and Mrs Dunlop cannot even be surmised. He also told his lady friend that the song, "My Bonie Mary," or "The Silver Tassie," consisted of two old stanzas which pleased him mightily.
Instead of speculating, it may be pointed out that in the Thomson version, the verse beginning “And surely ye'll be your pint stowp" comes last. In Johnson it comes second, and that undoubtedly is its proper place. The two cronies order the pint stowp when they meet; it stimulates memory and leads to reflections upon their wanderings; at the close they clasp each other's hands in token of mutual confidence and unbroken friendship. If at parting they “ tak’a right gude-willie wawight” as a stirrupcup, that is their own affair ; but by that time, so far as the song goes, the play, as Scott-Douglas said, is over. That editor advances no theory of an origin for the song, no precedent model for either its form, its sentiment, or its title. His reticence may have been due to ignorance, but it may prove to have been wisdom.
Later editors, at any rate, have not been very fortunate in dealing with the antecedents of the song. Dr Wallace begins by mistakenly inserting "Auld Lang Syne" in the letter to Mrs Dunlop, and giving it in the Johnson form, i.e., with the “ pint stowp" verse second. Currie (Dr Wallace's authority) prints the letter, but only refers to the song—“Here follows the song printed Vol. IV., p. 123,” where it is given, not as Dr Wallace quotes it, but in the Thomson form, with the "pint stowp last. It is a matter of regret that Currie did not publish the song as actually sent to Mrs Dunlop. Dr Wallace gives no reason for including the Johnson text in the Dunlop letter (11. 391).
That editor, however, gives some interesting information, so far as it is right, in Appendix IV. to his second volume. He says that the “ earliest version” of the song has been traced in broadsides prior to the close of the seventeenth century, but gives no specimen. He then refers to Watson's Collection, 1711, and the disputed authorship of “Old Long Syne " there given. Upon the claims advanced by Rev. Charles Rogers on behalf of Sir Robert Ayton, and by James Paterson on behalf of Francis Sempill of Beltrees, Dr Wallace passes no opinion. Claimants and verses will be reverted to hereafter. Dr Wallace also prints "Auld Lang Syne" from Allan Ramsay's “Tea-Table Miscellany” (1724). The Centenary Editors give the correct or Johnson version of the song, with the "pint stowp” verse second. Of Burns's letter to Thomson they write alternatively. It is not impossible, they think, that Burns may have got “the germ of his set as he said he did.” Otherwise, he may, in their view, have devised his story to Thomson, in order to ensure the acceptance of a piece which he was too modest to describe as his own improvement on the Watson and Ramsay sets.
This hypothesis has one serious flaw. It does not account for Burns's repetition of his flimsy fable to Mrs Dunlop. In a more suggestive and informing strain, Messrs Henley and Henderson continue :~"The broadside from which Watson got it, and of which there is a copy (probably unique) in the Laing collection at Dalmeny, is headed thus : 'An Excellent and proper new ballad, entitled Old Long Syne, newly corrected and amended, with a large and new edition of several excellent love lines.' Although the ballad is called new, the title, as these editors point out, indicates the existence of an older set : "and that Burns either knew the set, or had seen this said broadside is clear, since, instead of the mere refrain of Old Long Syne,' as in Watson, it has this burden :
On old long syne,
Leaving the editors of Burns; Ford, in his "Song Histories,” goes nearer the root of the matter than any of them.
He mentions an anonymous fifteenth century poem preserved in the Bannatyne MSS. of 1568, entitled "Auld Kyndness Forgot," as the earliest lyric germ of “ Auld Lang Syne.” “No one,” he adds,
seems to have thought it worth while to print the words.” In that Mr Ford is mistaken. He becomes ecstatic :—"Oh, glorious Robert Burns, thy country owes thee more than tongue can tell !” an outburst in which the types play havoc with the sentiment ; and he then distigures his excellent paper by giving Burns's song in the erroneous Thomson version.
Without calling Burns's song an evolution, it is possible that earlier singers may have fancied or felt that, like the uncarved statue in the block of marble, a lyric or a poem was lying unworded in the music and suggestive meaning of the phrase “Auld Lang Syne.” They tried to give it verbal shape and failed. Burns came and caught the hidden sense they all had missed. It came to him as an inspiration, and he achieved that which verse-makers had been essaying to accomplish for between two and three centuries. Whether by intuition, divination, or otherwise, he saw the adaptability of phrase and melody to the meeting of long sundered friends. In that consists the preponderating element in the lyric, although Burns contrasts it with “modern English Bacchanalians.” The simplicity and perfect naturalness of his thought and feeling are so obvious that something like surprise comes to be felt that it was left to him to write the song. As in other cases, it needed a poet of nature's dowering and spontaneous power to set free the poetry lurking in the commonplace. Life is largely made up of partings and meetings. They are every-day experiences, but it took a Burns to realise the shadowed gladness of the autumn meeting of those who parted in life's spring, and to sir.g the song of “Auld Lang Syne.”
The most complete and trustworthy account of the earlier forms of " Auld Lang Syne,” is contained in a paper by Mr James Dick, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, included in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries for 1892. He and Ford both find the germ of the song in the anonymous poem of 1568, which George Bannatyne inserted in his manuscript. The writer is unknown, but Mr Dick referred the poem to the latter part of the fifteenth or the beginning of the sixteenth century, and thought it an excellent example of the masculine strength of the Scots language. He goes on to say that Lord Hailes included it in “ Ancient Scottish Poems," published in Edinburgh in 1770, from the Bannatyne MS., under the title of “ Auld Kyndnes Foryett," where “ Kyndnes" appears to mean acquaintance on a basis of familiarity.
It is very curious that neither Dick nor Ford, nor any of the editors of Burns thought of looking into Allan Ramsay's “Evergreen," published in 1724. Its very title is suggestive and attractive to one given to research : “The Ever Green being a collection of Scots Poems, wrote by the Ingenious before 1600.” In his preface, Rainsay calls attention in the most candid manner to the source from which he obtained his collection. He there acknowledges his indebtedness to the Honourable Mr William Carmichael, Advocate, who "assisted me in this undertaking with a valuable number of Poems in a large manuscript book in folio, collected and wrote by Mr George Bannyntine, in anno 1568; from which MS. the most of the following are gathered.” To the poem in question he gives the title—“ Auld kyndness quite forzet quhen ane grows pure.” Here, then, are two versions of the poem which were accessible to Mr Ford.
Before pointing out their differences it may be noted that there are eight verses of eight lines each, and that, as Mr Dick explains, they form the soliloquy of a man who has fallen into poverty. He reflects with a good deal of bitterness upon the ingratitude of those who had professed themselves friends in the days of his prosperity. The poem occurs on folio 8o B of the Bannatyne MS. Whether Ramsay or his friend Carmichael tried to improve upon it, or only to make it more intelligible cannot now be stated with certainty. In any case, the differences between the two versions are chiefly verbal and unimportant, and nowise affect the general import of
The first and second verses strike its keynote, and sufficiently indicate its drift. They are here quoted for the further purpose of comparison :
AULD KYNDNES FORYETT.
This warld is all bot fenyeit1 fair,
Quhill I had ony thing to spend,
In the “Evergreen," Ramsay gives the following version, only in one case altering the sense-in the seventh line of the first verse :
AULD KYNDNESS QUITE FORZET QUHEN ANE GROWS PURE.
This Warld is all but fenziet fair,
And as unstable as the Wind,
Trest Fallowship is ill to find,
And Charity thairs nane to get ;
And Auld Kyndness is quite forzet.