February 10, 2011

Four Excellent Songs: The Wonderful Wig; Meg o' the Mill; The Rantin' Dog the Daddie O't; Gilderoy

Robert Burns (1759-96) is best known for his poems and songs that reflect Scotland's cultural heritage. He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland, the first of seven children belonging to William Burnes, a tenant farmer, and his wife Agnes Broun. Burns had little formal education, but he read English literature and absorbed the traditional, largely oral Scots-language folk songs and tales of his rural environment. He began to compose songs in 1774, and published his first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786. The work was a critical success, and its poems in both Scots and English, on a range of topics, established Burns’s broad appeal. While building his literary reputation, Burns worked as a farmer, and in 1788 he was appointed an excise officer in Ellisland. He spent the final 12 years of his life collecting and editing traditional Scottish folk songs for collections including The Scots Musical Museum and A Select Collection of Original Scotish [sic] Airs for the Voice. Burns contributed hundreds of Scottish songs to these anthologies, sometimes rewriting traditional lyrics and setting them to new or revised music. Burns’s works were widely distributed throughout Scotland and beyond in chapbooks. These small, inexpensive eight-page booklets were often illustrated with woodcuts and printed on coarse paper. Chapbooks (called garlands if they included songs) were a popular form of entertainment in the 18th and early 19th centuries and the principal way that ordinary people encountered songs and poetry. They were distributed by traveling “chapmen” who sold the books at markets and door-to-door in rural areas. Chapbooks often included poems by more than one author, and the authors were not identified. This book, from the G. Ross Roy Collection at the University of South Carolina, includes Burns’s "Meg o' the Mill" and "The Rantin' Dog the Daddie O't."

Letters Addressed to Clarinda, &c

Robert Burns (1759-96) is best known for his poems and songs that reflect Scotland's cultural heritage. He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland, the first of seven children belonging to William Burnes, a tenant farmer, and his wife Agnes Broun. Burns had little formal education, but he read English literature and absorbed the traditional, largely oral Scots-language folk songs and tales of his rural environment. He began to compose songs in 1774, and published his first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786. The work was a critical success, and its poems in both Scots and English, on a range of topics, established Burns’s broad appeal. While building his literary reputation, Burns worked as a farmer, and in 1788 he was appointed an excise officer in Ellisland. He spent the final 12 years of his life collecting and editing traditional Scottish folk songs for collections including The Scots Musical Museum and A Select Collection of Original Scotish [sic] Airs for the Voice. Burns contributed hundreds of Scottish songs to these anthologies, sometimes rewriting traditional lyrics and setting them to new or revised music. During his stay in Edinburgh, Burns met Mrs. Agnes Craig M'Lehose in December 1787. It was love at first sight for both of them. In addition to numerous visits, the couple carried on what has been termed a "hothouse romance" by correspondence. The two soon decided to use "Arcadian names" as Burns called them: she was Clarinda, he Sylvander. Marriage turned out to be impossible, and the correspondence dwindled once Burns left Edinburgh. Mrs. M'Lehose later loaned the letters from Burns to John Findley, who claimed to be writing a biography of the poet (the biography never seems to have been written). Some of the letters were published without her permission in 1802.

Letter: 1788, October 11, Dumfries to Robert Ainslie, Edinburgh

Robert Burns (1759-96) is best known for his poems and songs that reflect Scotland's cultural heritage. He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland, the first of seven children belonging to William Burnes, a tenant farmer, and his wife Agnes Broun. Burns had little formal education, but he read English literature and absorbed the traditional, largely oral Scots-language folk songs and tales of his rural environment. He began to compose songs in 1774, and published his first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786. The work was a critical success, and its poems in both Scots and English, on a range of topics, established Burns's broad appeal. While building his literary reputation, Burns worked as a farmer, and in 1788 he was appointed an excise officer in Ellisland. He spent the final 12 years of his life collecting and editing traditional Scottish folk songs for collections including The Scots Musical Museum and A Select Collection of Original Scotish [sic] Airs for the Voice. Burns contributed hundreds of Scottish songs to these anthologies, sometimes rewriting traditional lyrics and setting them to new or revised music. In this letter, Burns confides his anxiety about the well-being of his farm in Ellisland to his friend, Robert Ainslie. At the same time, he seems reassured that "I have my excise commission in my pocket; I don't care three skips of a fur-dog for the up-and-down gambols of fortune." Burns first met Ainslie when he was in Edinburgh in 1787, seeing a new edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect through the press, and Ainslie subscribed to two copies of the work. Thereafter becoming intimate friends, the two became traveling companions on a border tour in May 1787.

When I Sleep &c

Robert Burns (1759-96) is best known for his poems and songs that reflect Scotland's cultural heritage. He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland, the first of seven children belonging to William Burnes, a tenant farmer, and his wife Agnes Broun. Burns had little formal education, but he read English literature and absorbed the traditional, largely oral Scots-language folk songs and tales of his rural environment. He began to compose songs in 1774, and published his first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786. The work was a critical success, and its poems in both Scots and English, on a range of topics, established Burns's broad appeal. While building his literary reputation, Burns worked as a farmer, and in 1788 he was appointed an excise officer in Ellisland. He spent the final 12 years of his life collecting and editing traditional Scottish folk songs for collections including The Scots Musical Museum and A Select Collection of Original Scotish [sic] Airs for the Voice. Burns contributed hundreds of Scottish songs to these anthologies, sometimes rewriting traditional lyrics and setting them to new or revised music. This manuscript presents two alternative drafts for the third stanza of Burns's song "Ay Waukin," or "Simmer's a Pleasant Time." The first draft contains a line that is unique to any other manuscripts of the song that have been found so far.

Letter, 1786 Aug. 19, New Cumnock to Monsr. Thomas Campbell, Pencloe

Robert Burns (1759-96) is best known for his poems and songs that reflect Scotland's cultural heritage. He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland, the first of seven children belonging to William Burnes, a tenant farmer, and his wife Agnes Broun. Burns had little formal education, but he read English literature and absorbed the traditional, largely oral Scots-language folk songs and tales of his rural environment. He began to compose songs in 1774, and published his first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786. The work was a critical success, and its poems in both Scots and English, on a range of topics, established Burns's broad appeal. While building his literary reputation, Burns worked as a farmer, and in 1788 he was appointed an excise officer in Ellisland. He spent the final 12 years of his life collecting and editing traditional Scottish folk songs for collections including The Scots Musical Museum and A Select Collection of Original Scotish [sic] Airs for the Voice. Burns contributed hundreds of Scottish songs to these anthologies, sometimes rewriting traditional lyrics and setting them to new or revised music. This is a farewell letter written by Burns to Thomas Campbell, who owned the small estate of Pencloe in Glen Afton, about two miles from New Cumnock Kirk. The phrase "this side of the Atlantic" suggests that the letter was written during the period Burns was contemplating emigration to Jamaica.

Letter, 1803, September 24, to Dr. Currie, Liverpool

Robert Burns (1759-96) is best known for his poems and songs that reflect Scotland's cultural heritage. He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland, the first of seven children belonging to William Burnes, a tenant farmer, and his wife Agnes Broun. Burns had little formal education, but he read English literature and absorbed the traditional, largely oral Scots-language folk songs and tales of his rural environment. He began to compose songs in 1774, and published his first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786. The work was a critical success, and its poems in both Scots and English, on a range of topics, established Burns's broad appeal. While building his literary reputation, Burns worked as a farmer, and in 1788 he was appointed an excise officer in Ellisland. He spent the final 12 years of his life collecting and editing traditional Scottish folk songs for collections including The Scots Musical Museum and A Select Collection of Original Scotish [sic] Airs for the Voice. Burns contributed hundreds of Scottish songs to these anthologies, sometimes rewriting traditional lyrics and setting them to new or revised music. This letter was sent by John Rennie regarding Dr. James Currie's The Works of Robert Burns, published in 1800. It contains poems such as "Logan Water" by John Maynethe, Rennie's own version of Burns's "The Blue-Eyed Lassie," and two other poems by Rennie. Rennie replaced the first line of the originial "The Blue-Eyed Lassie," which reads "I gaid a waefu' gate yestreen," with "Last night while glowed the lingering skies." In sending this manuscript, Rennie hoped that Currie would add his contributions to a later editon of Burns's biography and works. On side four, there is a summary of the contents with the following note: "[received] Sept. 24, 1803, ansd. 18th March 1804," presumably in Currie's hand.