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They wad me be the Oxter tak;
But now they let me stand aback,
In view of his Preface and the nature of his alterations, Ramsay's intention, in all probability, was to smoothe the Bannatyne original, and to make its meaning less obscure. The only radical change he makes is in the line referred to above, where for "Leill, loif, and lawte," he substitutes "Leil luve and Lawty"; ie, for truth, love or praise, and loyalty, he reads true love and loyalty. To return to the Bannatyne MS., the speaker complains in verse III. that " Now I find bot freindis few," and in IV. wisely, though cynically, concludes that moaning does no good
"The proverb now is trew I sé
Quha may nocht gife, will littill gett."
He then enlarges upon the second stanza in
Thay wald me hals1 with hude and hatt
And auld Kyndness is quyt foryett.
The sixth stanza opens with the two lines
"Als lang as my cop stud evin
I yeid bot seindill myne allane."
This means "I seldom went alone." As to " my cop," &c., it simply means so long as I was prosperous." The story is quoted from Kelly's Scottish Proverbs about a minister preaching against the Pope--" For all that I have said, even stands his cap drinking gud Romany wine this day." Spelling was very loose and inexact, so that the "freinds" of verse II. becomes the "freindis" of verse III., and the "friendis" of verse v. Too much importance, therefore, should not be attached to such variations
1 Hail. 2 enough. 3 laugh or smile. difficult, hard, or tough.
as cop and cap. They may both mean bonnet, as in the verse quoted by Burns
"His bonnet stood ance fu' fair on his brow."
The closing verses mingle the advice of experience with the depressing study of poor human nature. They are here given from the "Evergreen" version :
As lang as my ain Cap stude even,
I zied but seindle myne allane,
I squyrit was with Sax or Sevin,
Ay quhyle I gave them twa for ane;
But suddenly frae that was gane,
Into this Warld suld nae Man trow,
Sen that nae Kyndness epit is,
Into this Warld that is present,
To every Man his proper Debt,
Quhat eir God send hald thee content,
Summing up the sentiment of the song, it may be described as a lament for lost riches combined with a saddened commentary upon shallow human nature and the hollowness of friendship, and closing with an exhortation to live well and to be content. The second version of the lyric is found in Watson's collection, and is a loosely constructed, rambling love lament, remonstrance and pleading intermingling in somewhat distracting fashion. It
is divided into two parts of six and four eight-line stanzas respectively. It is called "Old Long Syne," and opens thus :
"Should old acquaintance be forgot,
Is thy kind heart now grown so cold
On old long syne ?"
There are reproaches for forgotten protestations and for broken vows and oaths, and a forsaken lover's search for causes
"Or is't some object of more worth
That's stolen thy heart away?"
It is natural in so far as it indicates an irresolute want of resignation. At one moment the lover is hopeless, but vows—
"And though thou hast me now forgot,
Yet I'll continue thine,
And ne'er forget for to reflect
On old long syne.”
His next mood is one of hospitality, and he is willing to share his home with his cold love, with an important proviso
"If e'er I have a house, my dear,
That truly is called mine,
He dwells upon the tantalising pleasures of memory, and passionately adds that if it banishes grief—
"How doth your presence me affect
With ecstasies divine,
Especially when I reflect
On old long syne ?”
The closing verse is probably the best, less artificial in sentiment, and more smoothly phrased than some of the others—
""Tis not my freedom I do crave,
Sure, liberty he would not have
Who glories in his chains;
But this I wish-the gods would move
That noble soul of thine
To pity, if thou canst not love
The question of authorship has never been decided, but remains open between Sir Robert Ayton of Kinaldy, and Francis Sempill of Beltrees. The clash of authorities is curious. Dick is
in favour of the latter; he thinks that the internal evidence is against Ayton for the dubious reason that he did not live (15701638) in rebellious times, as suggested in the verse above quoted, while Sempill (1605-80) lived in the middle of the troubled seventeenth century. To him are assigned "The blythsome bridal," "She rose and loot me in," and "Maggie Lauder." Dick adds somewhat inconsequently that although "Old Long Syne" is admittedly not in Sempill's style, he has the best claim to be considered the author. Dr Wallace ascribes Burns's song to no specific source, and in the Centenary Burns, Sempill is named, but no mention whatever is made of Ayton, while Grant Wilson and Sheriff Mackay do the reverse. The latter says absolutely that Ayton, the friend of Ben Jonson and Hobbes, wrote the first printed version of the song, and adds-"His poem, 'Old Long Syne,' has the credit of preserving the opening words, and the motive of the air which Burns made the national song of Scotland." Language so positive permits of no argument. It must, however, be pointed out that the Sheriff adduces no proof in support of his position.
Turning to the best editions of the two poets-"The Poems of Sir Robert Ayton, by Charles Rogers, London, privately printed 1871," and "The Poems of the Sempills of Beltrees, by James Paterson, Edinburgh, 1849," the satisfaction to be had is still far from being perfect. Paterson makes no mention of Ayton, and Dr Rogers none of Sempill. In speaking of the Sempill manuscripts, Paterson admits that they were not preserved among the Beltrees papers, and probably consisted of loose sheets (which
came into his possession from the representatives of the Sempills), containing "pieces attributed to Francis in different hands of write-none of them holograph of the author himself." They may, he surmises, be copies from the original of Francis Sempill, or made from memory. "Old Long Syne" occurs in the more modern part of the MS. Of it, Paterson says, "which appeared in Watson's collection-there are two copies-one in the same round bold hand as the older MSS., though apparently written at a later period, and when the copyist was more advanced in life. We therefore entertain no doubt of their accuracy in attributing the verses in question to Francis Sempill." It is headed, "A song called Old Longsyne, made by Francis Sempill of Beltrees."
Manifestly, and on the face of it, the reasoning is fine-spun and by no means convincing. The copies, be it observed, are in the handwriting of different persons, and none of them holograph. Here arise two questions. What has become of the originals, and why were they not preserved amongst the family papers? If made from memory, from whose memory could they have been made? That a copyist could correctly transcribe a poem of eighty lines of Sempill's composition from memory is, to say the least of it, an extraordinary supposition. It becomes all the more so when it is remembered that the "loose sheet" containing "Old Longsyne" was only one of several. The circumstances seem, rather, to suggest an album-portfolio to which Sempill's friends sent anything coming in their way, and that a copy of verses by Ayton should have appeared amongst the others-Ayton being Sempill's senior by a generation-is quite natural and credible. In the light of internal evidence, as will presently appear, the claim on Sempill's behalf perceptibly shrivels.
Editing Ayton in 1844, and not even alluding to Sempill, Dr Rogers only succeeds in making out a halting case for Sir Robert. He says that the two parts "of this song have been ascribed to Aytoun (sic), chiefly on the ground of sentiments and manner bearing such marked resemblance to his own. Neither Parts' are included in our MSS." He only claims, in fact, that Ayton