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tyre, Ritson,+ and above all, by Burns himself, who, besides the observations in the present work, has scattered among his prose writings the most judicious reflections on the subject. It will be equally superfluous to prove the eminent qualifications of Burns for understanding and relishing whatever relates to Scotish Song; they have been clearly elucidated in the following elegant and concise testimony by Mr. Walter Scott.
"The Scottish songs and tunes preserved for Burns that inexpressible charm which they have ever afforded to his countrymen. He entered into the idea of collecting their fragments with all the zeal of an enthusiast; and few, whether serious or humorous, past through his hands without receiving some of those magic touches, which, without greatly altering the song, restored its original spirit, or gave it more than it had ever possessed. So dexterously are these touches combined with the ancient structure, that the rifacciamento, in many instances, could scarcely have been detected, without the avowal of the Bard himself. Neither would it be easy to mark his share in the individual ditties. Some he appears entirely to
* This gentleman has written an excellent Essay on Scotish Song, which originally appeared in the second volume of "The Bee," p. 201, under the signature of J. Runcole.
+ In the Appendix (e) will be found an account of the last days of this antiquary.
have re-written; to others he added supplementary stanzas; in some he retained only the leading lines and the chorus, and others he merely arranged and ornamented. Let us take one of the best examples of his skill in imitating the old ballad.—Macpherson's Lament was a well-known song many years before the Ayrshire Bard wrote those additional verses which constitute its principal merit.* This noted freebooter was executed at Inverness, about the beginning of the last century. When he came to the fatal tree, he played the tune to which he has bequeathed his name, upon a favourite violin, and holding up the instrument, offered it to any one of his clan who would undertake to play the tune over his body at the lyke-wake: as none answered, he dashed it to pieces on the executioner's head, and flung himself from the ladder. The wild stanzas which Burns has put into the mouth of this desperado, are grounded upon some traditional remains.
"How much Burns delighted in the task of eking out the ancient melodies of his country, appears from the following affecting passage in a letter written to Mr. Johnson, shortly before his death."
You are a good, worthy, honest fellow, and have a good right to live in this world--because you deserve it. Many a merry meeting this publication has * This will be found in the present vol. p. 108.
given us, and possibly it may give us more, though, alas! I fear it. This protracting, slow, consuming illness which hangs over me, will, I doubt much, my ever dear friend, arrest my sun before he has well reached his middle career, and will turn over the poet to far other and more important concerns than studying the brilliancy of wit, or the pathos of sentiment! However, hope is the cordial of the human heart, and I endeavour to cherish it as well as I can. -(Reliques, p. 184.)
This heart-rending letter shews that Burns retained to the last hour his enthusiastic taste for the rustic poetry of his country. That he imbibed this taste at an early age, and that he cherished it throughout his life, we have abundant proof from the testimony of his nearest relatives and friends, and from his own avowal. I have,' he himself observes, paid more attention to every description of Scots Song than perhaps any body living has done.' He had all the advantages of study, of local situation, and of national attachment; and his own inborn enthusiasm perpetually impelled him to cultivate these advantages. As an instance of the vivid impression which the poetry of his country made on his young mind, we may mention the song of The blaithrie o't, which, he observes, was the earliest song he remem
bers to have got by heart. When a child, an old woman sung it to me, and I picked it up every word at first hearing.' (Reliques, p. 210). It is not improbable that a song which thus caught his lively fancy, had some share in exciting those kindred independent ideas that frequently occur even in his juvenile poems. The Editor was very much struck with a still more interesting account given by Burns in a letter to Mrs. Dunlop, of an old ballad called The Life and Age of Man. 'I had an old granduncle,' says he, with whom my mother lived awhile in her girlish years; the good old man, for such he was, was long blind ere he died; during which time, his highest enjoyment was to sit down and cry, while my mother would sing the simple old song of The Life and Age of Man.
The Editor conceived, from the enthusiasm with which the Poet speaks of this ballad, that if it could be procured, it might possibly throw light on some of his productions. After much inquiry, and hunting from stall to stall, he was at last fortunate enough to procure a copy of it. His conjectures were fully verified. From the solecisms with which this copy abounded, he perceived that it had not been much indebted to the care of its editors. He hoped, however, that the Poet's mother might still be able
to recollect so much of it as should enable him to present something like a correct copy to his readers.
On a visit to this worthy old woman, he had the satisfaction of hearing the whole recited by her, and he carefully marked the variations between his copy and her recitation. The reading of Mrs. Burus was so much superior to the other, that he had no hesitation in adopting it. It will be found, that to this interesting ballad we owe the exquisitely pathetic ode of 'Man was made to mourn." The Editor hopes that he will be forgiven for here introducing it to the consideration of the curious.
LIFE AND AGE OF MAN;
A short Description of his Nature, Rise and Fall, according to the Twelve Months of the Year.
Tune-ISLE OF KELL.
Upon the sixteen hunder year,
Frae Christ was born, that bought us dear,