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COLLECTIONS OF ENGLISH SONGS.
Songs are scattered like pearls among the writings of our Elizabethan dramatists, but these are frequently so inwoven with the narrative, that to remove them they lose much of their beauty and meaning. The collector of songs will look among the works of the Elizabethan writers at the first outset for songs. The curious and valuable miscellanies of the period must then be consulted, 'England's Helicon,'' The Phenix Neste,' • Davison's Poetical Rhapsody,' * Paradise of Dainty Devises,' and several others, accurate copies of which have been published by Brydges, Nicolas, and other poetical antiquaries, and by Thomas Park in the 'Heliconia,' though in an imperfect and rather inaccurate state.
There were as yet no collection of songs—but during the Commonwealth, Alexander Brome, called by Pepys ‘ the great song-writer,' published a garland of Loyal and Rump Songs; and immediately after the accession of Charles II. volumes appeared like butterflies, of Witty Songs and Miscellany poems, under these most singular titles, 'A crew of kind London Gossips,” Drolleries from Westminster, Covent Garden, Holborn, Windsor, Norfolk, Bristol and Oxford, · Wit restored, &c. &c.' * containing witty and licentious songs and poems by the good authors and Grub Street writers of the day; nearly the whole of their contents with some new Scotch songs,' (songs dignified with that title) were collected by Tom D'Urfey of pious memory, in the commencement of the last century, in six volumes, under the title of Pills to Purge Melancholy,' containing as great an assem. blage of filth and trash as ever came under the eye of decency. D'Urfey's work was followed by State Songs since the Rebellion,' and 'Loyal songs written against the Rump Parliament,' (1716. 1731.)
Allan Ramsay's Tea Table Miscellany appeared at Edinburgh in 1724—and the immediate popularity of that valuable work, called mapy new rivals into the field, of no very great pretensions : a col. lection of one hundred and three Bacchanalian Songs, appeared in 1729, with not above two worthy of being called passable songs. The Vocal Miscellany, (1734), A Complete Collection of old and new English and Scottish Songs, (1735), the Cupid, a collection of Love Songs, Bacchus and Venus, (1737), The Syren, (1739), containing four hundred and fifty-two celebrated English songs, The Lark, containing 470 songs, The Musical Companion, 1741, The Merry Companion or
* Many of these songs will be found in Jamieson's popular ballads, 2 vols. 8vo. 1806.
Universal Songster, 500 songs, 1742, The Nightingale, 492 songs, 1742. Philomel, being a small collection of only the best English songs, 1744. The Warbling Muses, or Treasure of Lyric Poetry, containing 731 songs, and to use the words of the Editor, “ a great many from MSS. and scarce any found in the collection of Benjamin Wakefield, being the first attempt of the kind," 1749. The Linnet, 1749, con. taining 660 songs; and Vocal Melody, or the Songster's Magazine, 2 vols. 1751, with 2000 English and Scottish Songs.
The above are only a few of the names of song books so rife during the last century, prior to Dr. Aikin's popular collection of the best English Songs, to which was prefixed an Essay on Song writing, presepting nothing new, original, or striking. The songs are selected with taste, but on the whole, the Doctor's work is one exhibiting considerable judgment and little research.
Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 1765, revived several old and admirable songs.
In 1783, Ritson published " A select collection of English Songs,' in three volumes, octavo. The Introduction contains very learned Historical Essay on Song, written with all the discernment and correctness for which Ritson is so justly celebrated.
About 1790, Mr. Alexander Dalrymple, published a miserable collection of Songs, altered indifferently, and selected with little judgment. Mr. Dalrymple was ignorant of Ritson's Collection !
Ritson's Ancient Songs, from King Henry III, to the Revolution, appeared in 1790. This is a very valuable work, one of great care and research.
In George Ellis's Specimens of the Early English Poets, several good songs were copied from rare volumes.
Dr. Aikin's work was reprinted in 1810, and Ritson's Select Collec. tion of Songs, with additions by Park in 1843, the Ancient Songs were republished a year or two ago. Ritson's labours form our most valuable collections and illustrations of Song.
COLLECTIONS OF SCOTTISH SONGS,
The early Scottish songs we owe either to tradition or the manu. scripts of the period, such as Bannatyne's, Maitland's, and Drummond's.
At Aberdeen appeared a collection of Scotch and English songs, under the name of “Cantvs, Songs and Fancies to three, four, or five parts. With a brief introduction to Musick, as is taught in the Musick-school of Aberdeen," 1662, a second edition of which was published in 1665, and a third in 1682. This is a book of little value.
James Watson collected and printed in Edinburgh a miscellaneous collection of Scottish Songs, in three parts, (1706-1709.1710.)
The Blythesome Bridal,' is printed in the early number.
But the first grand sanctuary for Scottish Song was Allan Ramsay's collection, “ The Tea Table Miscellany, or a Collection of Scots Sangs,” 1724, of which nine editions appeared in nine years. Ramsay's work contains old songs,-old songs with alterations and additions, and new songs by different authors. Of the former, it is supposed, there are not many printed as Ramsay found them, and the alterations and additions are considered to be numerous and generally for the worse. Many old words Allan threw aside, and assisted by his “ ingenious young gentlemen,” Crawford, Hamilton, and Mallet, commenced what Sir W. Scott calls “ his unhappy plan of writing new words to old tunes, without at the same time preserving the ancient verses, the preservation of which would have been much more in. teresting than any thing which has been substituted in their stead," [Remarks on Pop. Poetry, prefixed to M. of S. B. vol. i. p, 43.) This is a mere matter of opinion, but on such a subject Scott has a right to be heard. The old verses were no doubt put aside either thro' their indecency or want of merit, always excepting the pathetic story of • Bessie Bell and Mary Gray.'
The Tea Table Miscellany every admirer of Scottish Song should possess.
A collection of Scottish Songs and Airs was published under the name of • Orpheus Caledonius,' in folio, 1725. This is a work of more value to the musician than the poet. A song or two was contributed by James Thomson,
Yair's Clarmer appeared in 1751—where was printed for the first time Clerk of Pennycuick's clever song
O merry may the maid be. In 1769, was put forth by David Herd what Scott has called, "the first classical collection of Scottish Songs and Ballads.” Next to
Ramsay's work, this is the best. Had the volume been got up with better arrangement, a few references and authorities, our debt to David Herd would have been much greater : an enlarged collection was published in 2 vols. 1776, but few songs, (songs described by the Editor as “the poetry and music of the heart,") were added to this edition.*
During Burns' residence in Edinburgh, (1787), was published the first part of Johnson's Scots Musical Museum, where English and Scotch productions were indiscriminately mingled. Burns became acquainted with Johnson the publisher, and soon made himself the Editor of the work, entering into the task with both enthusiasm and diligence. The second part shewed none of the faults of its fore. runper. Capital old songs were here rescued from oblivion, and the poet's muse tasked to eke out, t amend, and compose. It is difficult to say which one admires most, Burns' emendations, additions, or original songs. “ Mr. Burns," says Ritson, “as good a poet as Ramsay, is, it must be regretted an equally licentious and unfaithful publisher of the performances of others." --Scottish Songs, lxxx.
A collection of Ballads and Songs was published in 1790, by Laurie and Symington, but this is a mere copy of Herd's work. ` By his pub. lications about this time, Pinkerton pretended to do much for Scotish Song.
In 1794, Ritson put forth his Collection of Scottish Songs. Motherwell speaks of it as “ a text book of care and accuracy," and Scott with equal justice as ' a genuine but meagre collection."
* Mr. Chambers tells us very frequently that such and such a song was first published by Herd in 1776, whereas, if he had looked into the earlier edition, he would have found almost all his references wrong.
+ The poet, perhaps, most capable, by verses, lines, even single words, to relieve and heighten the character of ancient poetry, was Robert Burns. In many of the old songs and fragments he recomposed and reprinted for the collection of Johnson and others, his genius contributed that part which was to give life and immortality to the whole.-Scott. Essay on Imitations of the Ancient Ballad, Min. of S. B. IV. 23. Burns of all poets that ever breathed, possessed the most happy tact of pouring his genius through all the meanderings of music, was unrivalled in the skill of brooding over the ruder conceptions of our old poets, and in warming them into grace and life. He could glide like dew into the fading bloom of departing song, and refresh it into beauty and fragrance.-Scottish Songs, I. 66. ALLAN CUNNINGHAM.
In George Thomson's publication, few old songs were preserved ; that work owes its fame to the muse of Burns, Sir W. Scott's Border Minstrelsy, is almost equally deficient in what we are looking after.
The late Robert Cromek published in 1810, “ Scottish Songs, with observations by Burns." The Poet's observations are as frequently trite and uninteresting as they are either antiquarian or original. Burns was the first to enquire after the authors and History of Scottish Song:
Cromek's collection of Nithsdale and Galloway Song, 1810, is a work full of songs by modern hands, with a few stray old verses scattered over its pages.
In 1819 and 1821, James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, edited a col. lection of Jacobitical Ballads and Songs. Had this work been more sparing of Historical Illustration, and the songs selected with more care, the Jacobite Ballads might have been a standard work of merit often to be reprinted.
As yet there was no complete collection of Scottish Songs--they were scattered over various volumes, difficult of access, and when got dressed out most uninvitingly. Ritson had wasted both learning and ingenuity in his researches into the Historical maze of song, and Burns had sought the traditions of Scotland for Anecdotes illustrative of his favourite lyrics. Much was done and yet much remained to be done. In 1825, Allan Cunningham announced a work entitled, “ The Songs of Scotland,” 4 vol. 8vo., he set out on his task with the de. termination to spare no research, print whatever was beautiful, and alter what was indecent; he would do, and did, what Ramsay and Burns had done before him. The work was received most kindly by many, and condemned by few. How justly or unjustly let time and chance determine. Antiquaries lost their favourite old spel. lings, and the lovers of indecency, “the high kilting of the muse." The Editor of this little collection of Songs would applaud Mr. Cunningham's undertaking in as many places, as he would condemn it. To Mr. Cunningham, though he both altered and added needlessly, Scottish song is greatly indebted.
It is right to notice here that the different collections of Ancient Minstrelsy, edited by Finlay, Motherwell, Kinloch, and Buchan, added little to our treasures of Song. Of Mr. Peter Buchan's work, one-half seems the compilation of his own brain, fertile in tares, and sterile of wheat, and much of the other half old and modern ballad. verse, unworthy of a printer's type.
In 1829, Robert Chambers of Edinburgh put forth a Collection of Scottish Songs, which the admirer of Northern Verse would do well to become acquainted with.