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Companion, edited by I. Oswald, a professional musician, resident in London, who sent out the first volume in 1740. Eight volumes were finished in 1756, but the work in twelve numbers or volumes, containing about 500 tunes, was not completed until considerably later. In 1746 William Mc Gibbon began to issue Books of Scots Tunes, and the whole collection with additions is a volume of 120 pages, about 1762. In 1781 a Presbyterian Parish Minister, Patrick McDonald, published a scholarly collection of Highland Vocal Airs. Between 1782 and 1788 a Selection of Scotch, English, Irish, and Foreign Airs in three volumes was published, and other three volumes followed. These represent the numerous collections of instrumental music furnished for the delectation of the Scottish people last century.
The third group, comprising dance books, as a branch of aesthetics is exceedingly interesting. For a long period of time the Scots have been famed for an intense love of dancing. The precise nature of penny weddings in the seventeenth century is obscure, but in the eighteenth they were often merely rustic balls, at which each one present contributed a small sum to pay the cost of the music and the incidental expenses. The violin has been the social musical instrument in Scotland for very many years, and the players have been very numerous in town and country. They never had the honour of holding civic appointments like the pipers, for the authorities held the fiddlers in contempt, but they were always in demand for social music. At balls, the fiddler was seated on a table in a corner of the room, and a free supply of liquor was part of his fee. Allan, the Scottish painter, has represented a ball room with a portrait of Niel Gow, the 'famous fiddler frae the North', seated as described. The Scots loved dancing for its own sal not, as in other countries generally, as a means of social intercourse. The peasantry after a hard day's work would walk many miles to a 'penny wedding', dance till daylight, and return only in time for work. The rage for dancing in the
eighteenth century in Edinburgh, for example, is scarcely realized. The most fashionable assemblies were governed by a female tyrant, who ruthlessly forbade entrance to all but the cream of society. The Duchess of Gordon, in Burns' time, acted in this capacity. All ranks and conditions had their coteries and assemblies, and professional teachers abounded. Captain Topham, an English officer, describes how he buried himself in a corner of a ball room to escape the violent exercise of Scottish dancing. In his letter of April 20, 1775, he states that the ladies sit entirely unmoved at the air of an English country dance, but the moment a reel tune is played they start up as if they had been bitten by a tarantula, and a corpulent lady 'shall bounce off her seat and frisk, and fly about the room'. He also states that everybody dances except the ministers, and that he has seen 'a learned professor forgetting all his gravity, and dance to the best of his abilities'. He compares the French peasant to the Scottish ploughman, who refreshes himself with a fatiguing dance.
The music sellers amply supplied Scottish dance music in the latter half of the century. The first printed dance book, Bremner's Collection of Scots Reels or Country-dances, published in Edinburgh in 1757, was followed by a continuous stream, and the earliest mention of 'Strathspey' is on the title page of Dow's Thirty-seven New Reells and Strathspeys, &c., c. 1775. The Reel of Aves is named in the seventeenth century, and the Strathspey obtained its title from the Spey district, where it was mostly danced. The names are synonymous: the reel has equal notes in the bar, and is danced quicker than the Strathspey, which has the peculiar jerky movement in the music known as the Scotch snap, so much imitated in the Italian opera of last century.
Such was the atmosphere Burns was born and bred in; he inherited his countrymen's love of dancing and singing. A remarkable class of song writers which may be properly noticed here preceded and followed Burns. The songs of
Scotland are supposed to belong to the soil, but they certainly are not all of it; with the anonymous there are kings, peers, priests, parsons, presbyters on the roll of the vernacular song writers of Scotland, as well as farmers, ploughmen, shoemakers, fiddlers, milkmaids and alewives, down to the outcast of society, whom Burns named as the author of 'O'er the Muir amang the heather'. Whether or not James IV wrote The Gaberlunzie Man, the universal belief that he might have done so is sufficient for the purpose. A considerable number of the most admired vernacular songs of the eighteenth century were written by ladies of rank, and it would be difficult to imagine authors of the same class in England, such as the Baroness Nairn of The land o' the leal; Lady Grizzle Baillie of Were na my heart licht I wad die; Lady Wardlaw of Gilderoy; Mrs. Grant of Carron of Roy's Wife; Mrs. Cockburn of The flowers o' the forest; Miss Jane Elliot of I've heard a lilting, and others. The democratic spirit has always been more strongly developed in the North than in England, and these song writers are evidence of the sympathy which ran through the whole social scale of Scotland.
II. BURNS AND HIS SONGS
One of the most considerable British men of the eighteenth century.-CARLYLE, Burns: Edinburgh Review, 1828.
Why is he great, but from this, that his own songs at once found susceptible ears among his compatriots; that sung by reapers and sheaf-binders, they at once greeted him in the field, and that his boon companions sang them to welcome him at the alehouse?
THE life of Burns is so well known that it would be superfluous to repeat here anything not strictly applicable to his musical ability as an expert and an authority on Scottish Song. Burns was born in 1759, or two years after the first printed collection of Scottish dance music, and seven years before Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry was published. He died in 1796, and his life was circumscribed by the last half of the eighteenth century, which was the classical age of the revival of popular poetry, as it was also the period when every class of society in Scotland vigorously danced. Burns established the folk music of Scotland as well as its vernacular poetry. His literary fecundity was all the more phenomenal when it is remembered that he wrote his songs for specific melodies previously selected and studied. He had to consider their musical as well as their literal interpretation, and oftentimes he was puzzled to find suitable words and rhymes to fit the music of some favourite melodies. Seven-eighths of his songs were written during the last nine years of his life, when he was an unsuccessful farmer and a gauger, riding often two hundred miles a week in the discharge of his duty. His best version of the Banks o' Doon, evolved and written in an uncomfortable country inn, distracted by callers, is typical of the conditions under which he wrote many of his best songs and letters. Considering his circumstances with the amount of the original literary work that he produced, it may truly be said
with Carlyle that he was the most considerable British poet of his century.
Currie and Lockhart said nothing about Burns' musical character, in fact, they implied that he had no musical gift, and they left the public with the impression that he was almost deaf to musical sounds. Whether the excellence of Burns' songs is in any way due to a sense of music need not at present be discussed; the fact remains that he had an acute ear for music and was extremely sensitive to musical sound. How did the misconception arise, and why was it perpetuated? When Currie was collecting material for the life and works of Burns, he obtained a letter written by Burns' schoolmaster, containing reminiscences of the poet when he was a boy. The following is an extract from Murdoch's letter on the education of Burns and his brother Gilbert:
'I attempted to teach them a little church-music. Here they were left far behind by all the rest of the school. Robert's ear was particularly dull, and his voice untunable. It was long before I could get them to distinguish one tune from another.' (Currie, Works, 1800, i, 91.)
Currie apparently accepted this description of Murdoch's pupils without further inquiry, although he had before him all Burns' letters to George Thomson, containing the most absolute proof of Burns' musical perception and critical knowledge of Scottish music, and he made no attempt to reconcile Burns' manhood with his musical dullness at the age of seven years. The truth is that Currie disregarded the musical character of Burns' songs altogether, and even mutilated the most important musical letter to Thomson as if of no consequence. Murdoch in the same paragraph as that above quoted added 'that if any person who knew the two boys had been asked which of them was the most likely to court the Muses, he would surely never have guessed that Robert had a propensity of that kind.' This is one of the many examples showing how futile it is to