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tered one line, or even a single word, of any thing that he wrote for the work, after it was once committed to paper. Johnson, though a good engraver, was, happily for our bard, neither an amateur nor a critic; the songs which Burns wrote for this work, therefore, were the genuine, warm, and unfettered effusions of his fertile muse.
He also furnished many charming original melodies, collected by himself in various parts of Scotland, which, but for him, would in all probability have been utterly lost or forgotten. Indeed, from the month of December 1786, down to the period of his death in July 1796, Burns was almost the sole editor of the poetical department of the “ Museum.” Nor did his zeal and wishes for its success seem to diminish even at the approach of death. In a letter which he wrote to Johnson on the 4th of July, only seventeen days before his decease, he thus expresses himself : “ How are you, my dear friend ? and how comes on your fifth volume? Let me hear from you as soon as convenient. Your work is a great one; and, now that it is nearly finished, I see, if it were to begin again, two or three things that might be mended ; yet I will venture to prophesy, that to future ages your publication will be the textbook and standard of Scottish song and music.”
Our lamented poet lived to see the first, second, third, fourth, and the greater part of the fifth volume of the “Museum” finished. He had even furnished Johnson with materials almost sufficient to complete the sixth volume, which was published about five years after the poet's death.
At an early period of the work, Burns, in a letter to Johnson, communicated a plan which he thought would tend much to gratify the purchasers of the “ Museum," and even enhance the value of the work. “ Give,"
of the Museum' to my worthy friend Mr Peter Hill, bookseller, to bind for me, interleaved with blank leaves, exactly as he did the Laird of Glenriddle's, that I may
anecdote I can learr, together with my own criticisms and remarks on the
says he, «
songs. A copy
of this kind I will leave with you to publish at some after period, by way of making the • Museum' a book famous to the end of time, and you renowned for ever.”
Johnson immediately sent him an interleaved copy; and, upon mentioning the improvement that had been suggested by the poet, to Dr Blacklock, Mr Tytler, and some other of his literary friends in Edinburgh, they unanimously approved of the measure, and agreed to communicate to Burns all the anecdotes and remarks they could collect respecting the national songs of Scotland. Some progress was made in this design; but, in consequence of the death of Mr Tytler, Dr Blacklock, Mr Masterton, Mr Clarke, Mr Burns, and, last of all, the publisher himself—for a few years brought the whole of these ingenious men to their graves—it was never brought to a conclusion. What had been done, however, was given to the public in a volume, entitled “ Reliques of Robert Burns,” edited by the late Mr Cromek.
The “ Museum” is unquestionably by far the most extensive and valuable collection of Scottish songs that has ever been published. Each of the six volumes contains a hundred melodies, with a still greater number of songs, to which they are adapted. Besides all the good songs which appear in other collections, the “Museum” presents us with many ancient Scottish ballads, and a great variety of those old, curious, and exceedingly humorous songs, with their original melodies, the favourite lyrics of our early ancestors, which are to be found in no other musical publication whatever. It has for a considerable time been matter of regret, that this work is entirely out of print, and very rarely to be met with.*
The close of the eighteenth century was, altogether, a brilliant era in the history of Scottish song. In 1794, Mr Joseph Ritson, the distinguished English
* Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, July, 1817.
antiquary, having turned his attention to this interesting subject, published “ Scottish Songs," in two volumes, duodecimo, with letter-press music; a work valuable in the highest degree, on account of the Historical Essay with which it is prefaced. The depth and accuracy of Mr Ritson's investigations were something new to the old credulous slip-slop antiquaries of Scotland. He, for the first time, showed to them the superior value of facts over conjecture in this department of archæological knowledge. To him the present Essay is indebted for its plan, and for much of the information presented in its earlier section.
Within the same decade, Mr George Thomson commenced the publication of his “ Select Melodies of Scotland ;" a musical miscellany of more spacious dimensions and more elegant appearance than that of Johnson. The design of this work bad less of an an
iquarian character than that of the former editor. Johnson had aimed at making his work a repertory of all the old characteristic songs and tunes of Scotland,
the former only trimmed a little, in some instances, by Burns, and the latter harmonized, in the simplest style, by Clarke.
Mr Thomson, in projecting his work, resolved to select only the favourite airs; be resolved to procure symphonies and accompaniments for them from the best foreign composers, as Pleyel, Haydn, and Beethoven. With regard to the poetical department, in that also he determined to be very select. Having calculated his work for the use of the more delicate and refined part of creation, he saw it to be necessary that many of the verses formerly sung to favourite tunes should be abandoned. Such a fate they deserved, so far as his work was concerned, as well on account of their want of all real poetical merit, as in consideration of their rudeness and unintelligibility. To supply the hiatus thus produced, he applied to Robert Burns, then settled in Dumfries-shire, with a proposal to bargain with him for a certain number of new songs, in the production of which he should
be allowed his own time. Burns entered into Mr Thomson's views with all his accustomed enthusiasm; agreeing to write the desired verses, but positively refusing to accept of any pecuniary remuneration. « He performed what he promised,” says Mr Thomson, in his preface, “in a manner that transcended my most sanguine expectations, having enriched the work with the most exquisite songs, both Scottish and English, that exist in any language. They exhibit all the charms of the poet's genius in the utmost variety, both of serious and humorous composition.” Previous to his death in 1796, he had produced, within the space of less than four years, upwards of a
for the service of Mr Thomson's work, and all this over and above what he did at the same time for the less tasteful collection of Johnson.
Besides the assistance of Burns, it was Mr Thomson's good fortune to secure ample contributions from Mrs Joanna Baillie, Mrs Grant, Mrs John Hunter, Sir Alexander Boswell, Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Campbell, and William Smyth, Esqrs.; and he has thus been able to regenerate, for the use of good society, a prodigious quantity of excellent music, which otherwise must have lain neglected. His work, altogether, containing as it does all the best old anonymous songs, a selection from those of Ramsay, Crawford, Hamilton, &c., and about two hundred and fifty by the very best poets of modern times, Burns included, must be esteemed as decidedly the greatest and most meritorious publication connected with this subject. It has occupied the whole lifetime of a man of genius and taste ; and assuredly that lifetime has not been ill employed.
“ The Select Melodies of Scotland” were first published in a series of six folio volumes, price one guinea each. An octavo edition, in the same number of volumes, price twelve shillings each, has lately been published, so that the work may now be esteemed as fitted,
by its price, as well as its merits, for the use of all ranks of the community. To the smaller edition is prefixed a Dissertation, concerning the National Melodies of Scotland, which the reader will find to contain some ingenious speculations concerning the progress of the Scottish tunes, from their first creation, as simple melodies on what is called the national scale, to these latter days, when they are found improved by the introduction of various graces, and by the addition of what are called second parts. The index to the work deserves much commendation, as showing very distinctly the comparative ages of the various tunes.