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CHAPTER XIV

SCOTTISH POPULAR POETRY BEFORE BURNS

DURING a large portion of the sixteenth, and nearly the whole of the seventeenth, century a blight had fallen on secular verse in Scotland; so great a blight that very little of the best and most characteristic verse of the 'makaris' would have come down to us but for its preservation in MSS. One or two pieces by Henryson and Dunbar were printed at Edinburgh by Chepman and Myllar in 1508; Henryson's irreproachable Morall Fables were printed by Lekprevick at St Andrews in 1570; but it was in London, and after his death, that even the Vergil of Gavin Douglas appeared in 1553 and his Palice of Honour in 1579. Lyndsay's poems, printed in London and elsewhere before the reformation, were probably circulated privately in Scotland, where, after the reformation, many editions were published; and they retained their exceptional popularity during the seventeenth century. But, Lyndsay excepted, the old 'makaris' were never much known outside the circle of the court or the learned classes; and, though James VI himself wrote verse and patronised Montgomerie and other poets, the old poetic succession virtually perished with the advent of Knox.

Although, however, the age had become inimical to art of every kind, it is very difficult to tell what was the actual effect of the kirk's repressive rule on the manners, morals, habits and ancient predilections of the people, or how far the hymnary of The Gude and Godly Ballatis-great as may have been the immediate vogue of the anti-papal portion of it-superseded the old songs which many of them parodied. While the relentless rigidity of the new ecclesiasticism is sufficiently disclosed in its official standards and its enactments, tractates, contemporary histories and session and presbytery records, the actual efficacy of its discipline is another matter. It had to deal with a very stubborn, selfwilled and retentive people, and there is at least evidence that the old songs, if

their popularity was, for a time, impaired, were by no means killed. Doubtless, many were certain, in any case, to lose their vogue and be gradually forgotten; but there is apparent evidence of the survival in Scotland of some verses which were parodied in The Gude and Godly Ballatis. How old are various songs in Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany (1724, etc.), marked by him as 'ancient-such as Muirland Willie, Scornfu' Nansie, Maggie's Tocher, My Jocky blyth, Jocky said to Jeany, The Auld Guidman, In January last, John Ochiltree, Todlen Butt and Todlen Ben and Jocky met with Jenny fair-there is no definite means of knowing, though Fient a crum of thee she faws is a semi-modernisation of Alexander Scott's When his Wife Left him, and may serve as a specimen of the liberties Ramsay took with the songs he termed 'ancient.' Probably, however, most of them belong to the seventeenth century, and it may be that few are so old as The Auld Wife ayont the Fire, Jocky Fou and Jenny Fain, Jeany where has thou been and Auld Rob Morris-which Ramsay terms old songs with additions, the addition, sometimes, absorbing all the old song except fragments of stanzas or the chorus-nor so old as others for which he substituted an entirely new song under the old title. Next to Ramsay's-and better in several respects than Ramsay's-is the collection of David Herd, who, having amassed old songs from broadsides, and written down fragments of others from recital, without any attempt to alter or add to them, published a selection of them in 1769, an enlarged edition in two volumes appearing in 1776, and the remainder of the songs in his MSS, edited by Hans Hecht, in 1904. Some of these songs had been utilised by Burns, who sent others, modified by himself, to Johnson's Scots Musical Museum (1787-1803): and various old songs, of an improper kind, are preserved with more modern ones in The Merry Muses, of the original and authentic edition of which only one or two copies now survive.

From the accession of James VI to the English throne, the rigidity of the kirk's authority was coming to be more and more undermined; and, especially among the better classes, the puritan tendencies, never, in most cases, very deep, began to be greatly modified. It is to this class we evidently owe many of the old songs preserved by Ramsay. None of the old lyrical verse, though it has, and especially to us of a later generation, a popular aspect, is really of popular origin. When closely examined, it gives evidence of some cultured art; though exceedingly outspoken, it is never vulgar; nor is its standpoint that of the people, but similar, as

Relations between English and Scottish Song 361

its tone, with a difference, is similar, to that of the 'makaris': for example, to that of the author of The Wife of Auchtermychty and Rob's Jok cam to woo our Jenny, preserved in the Bannatyne MS. But, while also intensely Scottish in tone and tenor, many of these songs are yet, in metre and style, largely modelled upon the forms of English verse, which, from the time of Alexander Scott, had begun to modify the old Scottish dialect and the medieval staves. The language of most of them is only semi-Scots, as is also most of the lyric verse of Scotland from Ramsay onwards.

The relations between English and Scottish popular music and song were, even at an early period, somewhat intimate, and there was a specially close connection between southern Scotland and the north of England, the people on both sides of the Borders being largely of the same race and speaking the same northern dialect of Early English. Chappell, in his Popular Music of the Olden Time, and in notes to the earlier volumes of the Roxburghe Ballads, Ebsworth, in his notes to the later Roxburghe and other ballads, and Furnivall, in introductions to various publications, have pointed out the trespasses of various Scottish editors such as Ramsay, Thomson (Orpheus Caledonius 1725), Oswald (Scots Airs 1740) and Stenhouse (Notes to Johnson's Scots Musical Museum 1853)—in rapaciously appropriating for Scotland various old popular English tunes and songs; but, on the other hand, the case against the Scottish origin of certain tunes and songs is not so clear as these editors sometimes endeavour to make out; and, in not a few instances, they can be proved to be in error. Several tunes and songs had an international vogue at so early a period that it is really impossible to determine their origin; moreover, the Scottish court, especially during the reign of the five kings of the name of James, was a great centre of all kinds of artistic culture, and probably, through its musicians and bards, exercised considerable influence on music and song in the north of England.

That various English tunes are included in the Scottish MS collections of the seventeenth century is undeniable: they merely represent tunes, Scots or English, that came to be popular in Scotland, but a large number, even of the doubtful variety, may well have been of Scots origin; and, in any case, the titles of many indicate that they had become wedded to Scottish words. Chappell has affirmed that 'the religious parodies, such as Ane Compendious Booke of Godly and Spirituall Songs, are commonly upon English songs and ballads.' Now, when the book was first published-and,

since an edition so early as 1567 survives, there is reason to suppose that it was first published between 1542 and 1546-this was not at all likely, for it immediately succeeded what may be called the golden age of old Scottish verse, and, at the date of its publication, Scottish verse was little, if at all, affected by the new school of English poetry. Indeed, English songs, at least those not in the northern dialect, could hardly, before this, have had any popular vogue in Scotland; but it should be observed that Chappell did not know of the early date of the book, and supposed it not to have appeared till 1590. Thus, after printing the air 'Go from my Window,' he adds that, on 4 March 1587—8, John Wolfe had licence to print a ballad called 'Goe from the window,' which 'may be the original'; and he then proceeds gravely to tell us: 'It is one of the ballads that were parodied in Ane Compendious Booke of Godly and Spirituall Songs... printed in Edinburgh in 1590 and 1621'; whereas, if Wolfe's be the original English ballad, then 'Go from my Window' must be of Scottish origin-though whether it is or not is uncertain. Similarly, Chappell was unaware that the compendium was a much earlier authority for John come kisse me than any cited by him; and the fact that there is an answer to it in Scots in the same measure-preserved in a Dublin university MS-favours the supposition that the original song was in Scots; while an actual verse of the song may very well be that published by Herd in 1769 along with the original chorus. Again, with regard to The Wind Blaws Cauld, Hay Now the Day daws and The Hunt's Up, it would be easy to point out earlier Scottish than English references to them. Later, it is also indisputable that, while Ramsay and others were indebted to English broadsides for suggestions and, sometimes, for more, various English broadsides are mere travesties, and others reminiscent, or more than reminiscent, of old Scottish songs. Chappell's theory that the original name for the tunes to which some of these ballads were set was 'northern '—a synonym, in his opinion, for 'rustic'-and that, after the accession of Charles II, such tunes were gradually denominated 'Scotch,' while it is the only theory consistent with his conclusions, is not in itself a very feasible one, and, besides, the evidence-such as exists-is all against it. Shakespeare likens wooing to a 'Scotch jig,' 'hot and hasty' and 'full as fantastical'; Dryden compares Chaucer's tales for their 'rude sweetness' to a 'Scotch tune'; and Shadwell, in The Scourers, makes Clara describe ‘a Scotch song' as ‘more hideous and barbarous than an Irish cronan.' No one can

credit that the jigs, tunes and songs thus referred to were really not 'Scotch' but 'northern,' or 'rustic'; but, unless we interpret 'Scotch' in the very special sense that Chappell would attach to it from the time of Charles II in its relation with broadside tunes and ballads, we can arrive at no other conclusion than that tunes and songs recognised to be 'Scotch' in the usual sense of that term were well known in London from at least the time of Shakespeare. Moreover, since we find ballads of the early seventeenth century written to tunes which are described as 'Scotch,' we must suppose that these and subsequent ballad-writers, whether they were under a delusion or not, really supposed that the tunes to which they referred were 'Scotch'; and we must assume that the reason for the hypothesis was that they knew them as sung to 'Scotch' words. In several instances, also, internal evidence clearly shows the dependence of the Anglo-Scots version on a Scots original. It is very manifest in D'Urfey's Scotch Wedding, where 'Scotch' can scarcely stand for 'rustic,' since the piece is merely an amazing version of The Blythesome Bridal. Then, what but a Scots original could have suggested ballads with such titles as Johny's Escape from Bonny Dundee or 'Twas within a Furlong of Edinburgh Town, or The Bonny Scotch Lad and the Yielding Lass, set to the tune of The Liggan Waters, i.e. Logan Water (an old air well known to Burns, the original words of which are evidently those partly preserved in the Herd MS and, with a difference, in The Merry Muses); or The Northern Lass 'to a pleasant Scotch tune called the Broome of Cowden Knowes'; or, indeed, any other broadside ballads concerned with Scottish themes or incidents? Even in cases where a modern Scottish adaptation of an old song may be later than an English broadside on the same theme, we cannot always be certain that it is borrowed from the broadside. Thus, the English broadside Jenny, Jenny bears both external and internal evidence of being founded on an old Scots original, whether or not this original was known to Ramsay. Again, Ramsay's Nanny O is later than the broadside Scotch Wooing of Willy and Nanny, and may have been suggested by it, for it has a very similar chorus; but Chappell has been proved wrong in his statement that the tune to which the broadside is set is English, and the Scots original may well have been, with differences caused by recitation, the version in the Herd MS, As I came in by Edinburgh town, a line of which was possibly in the mind of Claverhouse, when he declared his willingness to take 'in her smoak' the lady he afterwards married. In

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