Imagens da página

me; 'Twas within a furlong of Edinburgh town, [un English imitation.]

That this was, indeed, the golden age of Scottish music and song is abundantly clear. How else should we find men and women of fashion exerting themselves to imitate and rival the poetic productions of the swains ? How else should Ramsay's volume have been intended, as he himself says, to steal itself into the ladies' bosoms?" How else should he have said of his book,

“ The wanton wee thing will rejoice,

When tented by a sparkling ee,
The spinnet tinkling to her voice,

It lying on her lovely knee !”
But, among the many facts which go to prove this,
perhaps the most conclusive is the publication, in 1725,
of a collection of Scottish songs and airs, called “The
Orpheus Caledonius,” which appeared at London, and
which its editor, William Thompson, professes to
have designed for the use of persons of quality, and
dedicates to the Princess of Wales.*

While the Scotch airs were in this high and palmy state, the simple singing of Scotch songs, without any accompaniment whatever, was one of the chief amusements resorted to by the best society in Edinburgh, at those delightful assemblages, then so fashionable, but now so exploded, called evening parties. _Ramsay's Collection might truly be called the Tea-Table Miscellany, for, according to the recollection of all aged persons of condition with whom I have conversed, the Deil's Buke itself+ found some difficulty in keeping its ground against it at the tea-table, and nothing was then bailed with such rapture as Lady

's or Mr I have heard one express tradition, which gives local and personal certainty to this fact. Early in the last century, there was scarcely a more

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

-'s song.

* Consort of George II., and afterwards Queen Caroline. + Cards.

delightful singer of the pathetic melodies of Scotland than Lady Murray of Stanhope, daughter of Lady Grizel Baillie, the authoress of “ Were na my heart licht, I wad die.” Lady Murray lived in a flat in the Parliament square, where she frequently assembled her friends of both sexes at tea-parties, which, on account of the extreme sweetness of her manners, and her accomplishments as a singer, were esteemed the most delightful affairs that could well be. She used to sing Lord Yester's set of Tweedside, in particular, with such thrilling pathos, that at each cadence at the end of the verses, where the despairing swain laments the necessity of “ laying his banes far from the Tweed,” there was generally a sob of tenderness heard to burst from the company, and they never failed to be found in tears at the conclusion.

It may be expected that some notice should here be taken of the Jacobite ditties, which, in the earlier part of the last century, constituted so large a portion of our body of national song. But Jacobite song is in reality an excrescence from the body of Scottish song, not a part of its body corporate. By far the greater part of these political canticles are merely parodies and imitations of other songs ; for the Jacobites, like the Puritan clergy of the two preceding centuries, had the sagacity to form their compositions on the frame-work and foundation-stones of songs which were favourites with the public. Another and still worse mischief is, that they were only of late years put into an historical form. Thus, although there can be no question as to the great merit of these productions, they unfortunately furnish us with no facts to illustrate the history of ge

Throughout the central portion of the last century, we find Scottish song still forming a great portion of the entertainment of the better orders of people in Scotland. Sir Gilbert Elliot, Dr Austin, Sir John Clerk of Pennycuik, Dr Webster, Miss Jane Elliot, and Mrs Cockburn, all of whom moved in the very

neral song:

best circle of society at Edinburgh, were then active writers of verses to Scotch tunes ; a proof that there was yet nothing unfashionable about it. The public is only acquainted with one song by each of these individuals ; but some of them in reality wrote many such things. I have seen a manuscript written by an aged lady of quality in the decade of 1770-80, which contains a great number of the fugitive compositions of the period under notice, and, in particular, of Sir Gilbert Elliot and Mrs Cockburn. The period which produced“ the Flowers of the Forest" (both sets), and the fine song beginning, “My sheep I neglected," could not be considered as one barren in song.

That the reader may have a just idea of the sort of good society which thus gave encouragement to Scottish song

about the middle of the last century, I beg to introduce a brief characteristic notice of Mrs Cockburn, with which I have been politely favoured by Sir Walter Scott, her surviving friend.

“ Mrs Catherine Cockburn, authoress of those verses to the tune of the Flowers of the Forest, which begin,

“ I've seen the smiling of fortune beguiling," was daughter to Rutherford, Esq. of Fairnalee in Selkirkshire. A turret in the old house of Fairnalee is still shown as the place where the poem was written. The occasion was a calamitous period in Selkirkshire, or Ettrick Forest, when no fewer than seven lairds or proprietors, men of ancient family and inheritance, having been engaged in some imprudent speculations, became insolvent in one year.

“ Miss C. Rutherford was married to Cock burn, son of Cockburn of Ormiston, Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland. Mr Cockburn acted as Commissioner for the Duke of Hamilton of that day; and being, as might be expected from his family, a sincere friend to the Revolution and Protestant succession, he used his interest with his principal to prevent him from joining in the intrigues which preceded the insurrection of

1745, to which his Grace is supposed to have had a strong inclination.

“ Mrs Cockburn was herself a keen Whig. I rem member having heard repeated a parody on Prince Charles's proclamation, in burlesque veise, to the tune of Clout the Caldron.' In the midst of the siege or blockade of the Castle of Edinburgh, the carriage in which Mrs Cockburn was returning from a visit to Ravelstone, was stopped by the Highland guard at the West Port; and, as she had a copy of the parody about her person, she was not a little alarmed at the consequences ; especially as the officer talked of searching the carriage for letters and correspondence with the Whigs in the city. Fortunately, the arms on the coach were recognised as belonging to a gentleman favourable to the cause of the Adventurer, so that Mrs Cockburn escaped, with the caution not to carry political squibs about her person in future.

Apparently, she was fond of parody; as I have heard a very clever one of her writing, upon the old song, Nancy's to the greenwood gane. The occasion of her writing it was the rejection of her brother's hand by a fantastic young lady of fashion. The first verse ran thus :

Nancy's to the Assembly gane,

To hear the fops a' chattering ;
And Willie he has followed her,

To win her love by flattering. " I farther remember only the last verse, which describes the sort of exquisite then in fashion :

Wad ye hae bonny Nancy ?
Na, I'll hae ane has learned to fence,

And that can please my fancy ;
Ane that can flatter, bow, and dance,

And make love to the ladies,
That kens how folk behave in France,

And's bauld amang the cadies."

An old-fashioned species of serviceable attendants, between


« Mrs Cockburn was authoress of many other little pieces, particularly a set of toasts descriptive of some of her friends, and sent to a company where most of them were assembled. They were so accurately drawn, that each was at once referred to the person characterised. One runs thus :

To a thing that's uncommon--a youth of discretion,
Who, though vastly handsome, despises flirtation ;
Is the friend in affliction, the soul of affection,

Who may hear the last trump without dread of detection. This was written for my father, then a young and remarkably handsome man.

“ The intimacy was great between my mother and Mrs Cockburn. She resided in Crichton Street, and, my father's house being in George's Square, the intercourse of that day, which was of a very close and unceremonious character, was constantly maintained with little trouble. My mother and Mrs Cockburn were related, in what degree I know not, but sufficiently near to induce Mrs Cockburn to distinguish ber in her will. Mrs Cockburn had the misfortune to lose an only son, Patrick Cockburn, who had the rank of Captain in the Dragoons, several years before her own death ; which last event took place about forty years since.

“Mrs Cockburn was one of those persons whose talents for conversation made a stronger impression on her contemporaries, than her writings can be expected to produce. In person and features she somewhat resembled Queen Elizabeth ; but the nose was rather more aquiline. She was proud of her auburn hair, which remained unbleached by time, even when she was upwards of eighty years old. She maintained the rank in the society of Edinburgh, which French women of talents usually do in that of Paris ; and her little parlour used to assemble a very distinguished and ac

the street-porter and the, p:culiar to Edinburgh. A great number were always hanging about the doors of the As sembly Rooms.

« AnteriorContinuar »