Musick for Allan Ramsay’s Collection of 71 Scots Songs

Set by Alexr Stuart & Engrav’d by R. Cooper
Edinr Printed & Sold by Allan Ramsay

Introductory Essay by Kirsteen McCue

University of Glasgow
W. Ormiston Roy Fellow 2006

Musick for Allan Ramsay’s Collection of Scots Songs, presenting simple settings of the tunes for the first edition of the songs in Allan Ramsay’s Tea-Table Miscellany of 1724, is a rare and consequently much-treasured item. With only a tiny number of copies now extant—music bibliographer Frank Kidson referred to it as the ‘scarce miniature volume’1—the copy held at the University of South Carolina is a prized possession in its outstanding collection of Scottish materials.2 This small item, surrounded by some mystery, has its own very interesting story to tell and it is significant for a number of different yet interconnected reasons.

Firstly, this is almost certainly the first musical presentation of Allan Ramsay’s songs. Ramsay senior (1686–1758), as he is often termed because his son Allan (1713–1784) was to become one of the finest portrait painters of the eighteenth century, has a considerable reputation as a poet. However, it has become more notable amongst critics in recent decades that his work as a collector and editor of songs is of paramount importance to the Scots song tradition and that his influence on his successors, Robert Burns and James Hogg in particular, deserves serious recognition.3 As such, the appearance of this little book is of major significance in terms of the history of Scottish song production. Moreover, its size and appearance (it measures only 12 cm in length by 9.5 cm in height and just over 1 cm in depth) makes this a particularly attractive object in terms of eighteenth-century Scottish book history. Richard Cooper’s engraving of Alexander Stuart’s music is both clear and aesthetically pleasing. And the impressions of the musical plates on the thick, high-quality paper clearly illustrate the complex artistic process of early eighteenth-century printed music. As described below, this was no mass-produced edition; it appears to have been commissioned and created within a local artistic milieu. It was also carefully put together in advance of new musical printing methods which were to become standard, and to make music printing much cheaper by the end of the century.

This Stuart–Cooper pocket-book, which is undated but thought to have been produced c. 1724–6,4 was too small-scale to facilitate the inclusion of texts, but a side-by-side comparison with the first edition of Ramsay’s text-only Tea-Table Miscellany of 1724 shows how the Stuart book was designed to work. Ramsay’s songs were presented without any musical notation, but with the title of the tune to which they were intended to be sung printed directly above the lyrical text. For those already in possession of a copy of the Ramsay collection, and thus the words for the songs in question, Stuart’s music book was clearly intended to sit alongside the texts and to encourage performance of the songs. The order of the songs in the six parts of this music book follows, almost exactly, the appearance of the songs in the 1724 volume of the Miscellany, though the music book stops before the end of the Miscellany. There are a further ten songs in Ramsay’s textual volume, six of which have no tune titles and one of which, namely ‘Colin and Grisy Parting’ (pp. 155–6), is set to the tune ‘Woe’s my Heart that we should Sunder’, which appears in Part 1 of the music book as it stands.

Prior to Stuart’s music book, most publications of Scots songs in broadside, chapbook, or book form included song texts with the titles of tunes alone given immediately above the text. With a melody line and a single bass line below, these new musical settings allowed amateur players to make simple music. They might attempt the pieces on their clavichord, spinet, or harpsichord, and they could also involve a fiddler or flute player to play the melodies, or someone to play along with the bass line on their ’cello. A growing domestic music market was forcing publishers to think again. Indeed, Cooper’s attractive frontispiece of a gentleman (with fiddle in hand) and gentlewoman sitting at their harpsichord, with a book akin to Stuart’s propped up in front of them, illustrates this beautifully. Their attire and environment clearly situate them within the affluent classes. No one was more aware of this growing musical market than Allan Ramsay himself. This is illustrated not just by the fact that he had clearly arranged (as the title page shows) to print and to sell the music book at his own shop, but also by his poetic dedication of the Tea-Table Miscellany, which is addressed to:

Ilka lovely British Lass,
Frae Ladys Charlote [sic], Anne and Jean,
Down to ilk bonny singing Bess,
Wha dances barefoot on the Green.

‘Dedication’, The Tea-Table Miscellany, p. iii.

While bridging nicely the lives of the gentlewomen or ‘ladys’ of Edinburgh and the country girls who most often sang songs to dance tunes which Ramsay claims he uses, this poem also makes clear reference to performance. Ramsay encourages his girls to sing and play these songs, with lines such as: ‘Revive it with your tunefu’ Notes’ and ‘Arising saftly through your Throats’ and ‘The Spinnet tinkling with her Voice / It lying on her lovely Knee’. Ramsay was clearly pivotal in helping this amateur musical market grow.

So how did the volume come about? The musician Alexander Stuart (dates unknown and notably sometimes also spelled ‘Stewart’) is a mysterious figure who appears to be known principally because of this little book of song settings. He was one of the musicians involved in the very beginning of the Edinburgh Music Club for which Ramsay wrote an ode included in his Edinburgh edition of Poems of 1721:

The primar Speech with Notes harmonious clear,
Transposing Thought, gave Pleasure to the Ear:
Then Musick in its full Perfection shin’d,
When Man to Man melodious spoke his Mind.

‘To the Musick Club’ (ll. 7–10), in Poems 1721, pp. 288–90.

Ramsay’s celebration of the powerful and positive influence of melody on man’s mind progresses, later in the poem, to a detailed description of the breadth of music performed, encouraged and enjoyed, describing the importance of Scottish national music within the context of new European composition:

And with Corelli’s soft Italian Song
Mix Cowdon Knows, and Winter Nights are long.
Nor should the Martial Pibrough be despis’d,
Own’d and refin’d by you, these shall the more be prized.

‘To The Musick Club’ (ll. 29–32).

Beginning at the Cross Keys tavern as a gathering of gentlemen with an interest in music, the Club was to become, as early as 1727, one of the most culturally influential bodies in the city—formally instituted as the Edinburgh Musical Society and working as part of a British network which played a crucially important role in British musical life throughout the eighteenth century.5 David Johnson has already explained that Stuart’s name is cited, alongside those of fiddler and composer William McGibbon (1696–1756) and composer Adam Craig (dates unknown, but who also produced a Collection of the Choicest Scots Tunes c. 1725), as one of the first musicians to be paid for their skills.6 The Society was to bring many foreign performers to the city over the next decades and was to raise enough subscriptions in the late 1750s to commission the young Scottish architect Robert Mylne to design St Cecilia’s Hall in the Cowgate, which is there to this day and regarded as one of the finest Georgian concert venues in existence. Stuart was not to become one of the Society’s stalwart performers or composers, however, and little is known about him after the 1720s. As Murray Pittock has noted, Ramsay frequented the Cross Keys tavern during those early years and its landlord John Steill subscribed to both his 1721 and 1728 collections of poetry.7

Richard Holman has already suggested the probability that it was at the Cross Keys where Ramsay met both Stuart and the engraver Richard Cooper (1701–64) and where the three, most probably, hatched their plan for the ‘Musick’ book.8 It is also probable that all three shared Jacobite sympathies (illustrated by the changing spelling of Stewart to Stuart). Cooper was to become much better-known than Stuart and consequently his influence on Scottish artistic life is far easier to trace. Born in London, he arrived in Edinburgh around 1725 after spending several years in Italy. This little song book was the first thing Cooper did there and it established him as an engraver of considerable ability. He was to stay in the city until his death in the mid-1760s and it is quite clear from his biography that he and Ramsay worked together and shared several key interests. Cooper was to be the founder and first treasurer of St Luke’s Academy in 1729, one of the earliest academies of artists in Scotland, and an institution to which Ramsay was also a signatory. He was later to build his own new academy in St John’s Street and was to be made a city Burgess in 1736 because of his contribution. He was renowned as the finest illustrator, producing everything from theatre tickets to maps and medical illustrations. And his love of theatre, again allied to Ramsay’s interests, resulted in him building a theatre in the Canongate in the late 1740s. Music bibliographer William Gamble lists Cooper as one of the principal engravers of the eighteenth century and Frank Kidson believes that he was, ‘for at least thirty years between 1725 and 1755’, the engraver who ‘cut the plates of most of the music published in Scotland’. Indeed, he then cites a number of key musical publications, including Ramsay’s songs and collections, for a variety of domestic music instruments (harpsichord, spinet, German flute, hautboy (oboe) and violin and ’cello) by composers including Adam Craig, William McGibbon, and Charles MacLean (c. 1712 – c. 1765).9

That the Stuart–Cooper ‘Musick’ book was not to prove popular or successful in the marketplace is suggested both by the lack of extant copies and the absence of contemporary reference to it. As noted above, it was most likely that Ramsay commissioned it himself and that it was a high-quality but rather local proposition, to be principally promoted and sold by Ramsay at his shop most probably to a select group of individuals who moved in the same social circles and who were keen on performing this material. With so little evidence it is difficult to know whether Ramsay had aspirations for a wider circulation, but the fact that the Stuart–Cooper ‘Musick’ book did not go much beyond Ramsay’s circles is unsurprising. For at almost exactly the same moment (indeed it is virtually impossible to identify quite who had the idea first), the London-Scottish musician and publisher William Thomson (c. 1684 – c. 1752) presented the first edition of his Orpheus Caledonius. Unlike the Stuart–Cooper book, his was not closely tied (song by song) to the Tea-Table Miscellany. It is crystal clear that Thomson recognised the immediate popularity of many of Ramsay’s songs and that he was keen to capitalise on this south of the border too. But he had not requested Ramsay’s permission to include them, and the poet was angry about this. By the time he published the Miscellany in Dublin in 1729, Ramsay had added a ‘preface’ in which he drew attention to his own authorship of the songs, noting that he ‘thought proper to intimate, and do my Self that Justice which the Publishers neglected; since he ought to have acquainted his Illustrious List of Subscribers, that the most of the songs were mine […]’.10 Ramsay’s call for recognition, however, went unnoticed and in his second, more popular edition of 1733, Thomson included even more of Ramsay’s songs, reaped from the later volumes of the Miscellany which had appeared in the intervening years.

Thomson’s volume, at least the first edition of c. 1725, was on an entirely different scale to the Stuart–Cooper ‘Musick’ book. It was a much larger and more expensive undertaking and with infinitely more financial support, alluded to by Ramsay in his comment about its ‘Illustrious List of Subscribers’. Thomson’s volume was dedicated to the Princess of Wales and had around 280 individuals on its opulent and impressive subscription list including multiple Dukes, Duchesses, Lairds, Countesses and lawyers, Parliamentary politicians and military men. It was produced in large folio format and its fifty songs were presented with first verses of text underlaid on the musical plates, and subsequent verses given in full beneath the music. While the Stuart–Cooper ‘Musick’ book did not discourage playing along with flute or fiddle, Thomson actively encouraged this by including an appendix at the back of the volume with individual parts for flute for each of his songs. That money was no object is also clearly illustrated by the fact that each song appears on one side of the page only (all verso pages, excepting the prefatory pages, are blank). Ramsay’s volume, on the contrary, is small (if still of very high quality) with no text, no additional parts for flute and the music is printed recto/verso on each folio.11

Other of Ramsay’s literary publications had subscription lists but his ‘Musick’ book does not. Again, this would point to Ramsay having financed the project himself and having only intended it on a small scale. But while subscribers are missing, dedicatees are certainly present. Ramsay reflects a notably female clientele for his songs by dedicating each of the six parts of his ‘Musick’ book to a woman, nearly all of them of notable social standing in and around the capital city. Part First is dedicated to the striking ‘the Right Honourable Countess of Eglintoun’ (Susanna Montgomerie, née Kennedy—1698/90–1780), whose interest in music and literature were well known. Ramsay also dedicates his almost contemporaneous pastoral comedy The Gentle Shepherd (1725) to her. She was a common figure at the dancing Assemblies in the city and her son, by then the ‘Earl’, is named as one of the members of the Edinburgh Musical Society.

Part Second is dedicated to Lady Somerville (née Anne Bayntun—d. 1738), who was the widow of Thomas Holt Esq. She appears to have been introduced to Edinburgh society in 1724 having just married James, 13th Lord Somerville. James had secured the titles of some of his English Somerville relatives, and married well, and he decided to return to Edinburgh around this time to revive the family’s estate at Drum House, Gilmerton on the outskirts of Edinburgh. William Adam designed the new part of the house at that time and they appear to have made this their long-term home; Anne Somerville was to die there in the late 1730s.12

Part Third is dedicated to ‘Lady Murray of Stanhope’ (née Grisell Baillie—1692–1759), wife of Sir Alexander Murray. She was the daughter of the famous Grisell Baillie (1665–1746),13 well known for her considerable managerial skills and not unfamiliar with the process of creating songs herself. Lady Murray seems to have inherited her mother’s literary, as well as musical, inclinations as she wrote a memoir of her parents which was published posthumously.14 Her marriage to Sir Alexander Murray was apparently not a happy one, but Lady Murray (friend of the writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu) was known both in London and Edinburgh for her singing. John Gay referred to her as ‘the sweet-tongued Murray’ in his poem ‘Mr Pope’s Welcome from Greece15 and she is noted as having been ‘unquestionably distinguished as one of the remarkable women who graced what has been called the Augustan age of the Court of England’. As the final appendix to the Memoirs notes, even towards the end of her life ‘she was well accustomed to sing the native airs and ballads of her own country, with a delicacy and pathos quite peculiar to herself’.16

‘The Honourable Lady Weir’ was the dedicatee of Part Fourth. Ramsay’s editor and biographer, George Chalmers, notes that she was ‘Lady Weir (of Blackwood—Christian Anstruther, afterwards Countess of Traquair)’, but he offers no additional information.17 The dedicatees of the final two parts of the book are even more of a mystery. Part Fifth is dedicated to a ‘Miss Christian Campbell’. There are several Campbells on the subscription lists for both the 1721 and 1728 editions of Ramsay’s Poems. There is no sign of a wife or daughter with this name who has been identified, but it appears that Ramsay’s son painted a ‘Miss Christian Campbell’ in or around 1739.18 The sixth and final part was dedicated to one ‘Mrs Young’ who remains a mystery. David Young of Auldbar (who was tutored by Thomas Ruddiman); John Young Esq.; Robert Young of the Water of Leith and George Young, Chirurgeon appear on the subscription list for Ramsay’s Poems of 1721. John Young of Leny and George Young, Chirurgeon are listed as subscribers to Poems of 1728. It is possible that ‘Mrs Young’ was the wife or daughter of one of these.

Trying to identify which song book appeared first is also a pretty impossible task. Neither Thomson’s Orpheus Caledonius nor the Stuart–Cooper ‘Musick’ book are dated. Library catalogue information and bibliographical entries are consistent in dating the Thomson volume c. 1725, but dates for the Stuart–Cooper book range between c. 1724–6. Both have high-quality paper: there is a beautiful fleur-de-lis marking on the paper in the Thomson volume and some pages have lettering across the middle of the page—‘I VILLEDARY’—but there is no discernible date; likewise on the National Library of Scotland copy of the ‘Musick’ book (NLS Inglis 38) there are tram lines on the paper and the edges of some ornamental mark or possible lettering, but no figures or clear dates. Further attempts to identify the rather ornate fleur-de-lis on the Thomson paper (most pages include either the fleur-de-lis or the lettering ‘I VILLEDARY’) have identified use of similar markings in paper dating to publications produced in Amsterdam in 1727, and the lettering to paper from Kent in 1741, but there appears to be no perfect match to date.19

Stationer’s Hall entries are helpful but only to an extent. Unsurprisingly the Stuart–Cooper book is not listed there. The Thomson volume is indeed listed under entries for January 1725, but there appears to be an error in the book. This January entry comes after a full year of 1725 entries until, on folio 336, it becomes March 28th 1726. This would suggest that the scribe had forgotten to note the change of the year at the beginning of 1726 and that consequently the entry for the volume should read January 5th 1726 and not 1725.20 This means that Orpheus Caledonius most probably dates to late 1725 or early 1726. Cooper’s arrival in Edinburgh is noted in his biography to have taken place ‘about 1725’ so this would clearly discount the wider 1724 option covered in Kidson’s dating for the Stuart–Cooper ‘Musick’ book. It would strongly indicate that the little book most probably also appeared later in 1725, and David Johnson’s suggestion that it might not have been until 1726 is also possible.21 Sadly, neither Stationer’s Hall entries nor watermarks are conclusive evidence in any case as publications were not always entered on a timely basis and old paper could be used by printers, especially those running small businesses who needed to be shrewd in using their materials.

Comparison of the musical material is another possible way to try to determine which came first—especially if one musician had clearly ‘pinched’ from the other. But comparison of these sources is also inconclusive. The melodies incorporated are often the same, sometimes almost identical and sometimes even in the same key, but the settings are clearly quite individual and there appears to be no plagiarism here. Moreover, while the Stuart–Cooper book, as noted above, follows very closely the order of the majority of songs in Ramsay’s 1724 Tea-Table Miscellany, Thomson’s Orpheus Caledonius mixes its choice of Ramsay songs and associated tunes with those by others. Again the pioneering work of David Johnson has already suggested that the relationship between these two collections is not quite as simple as it might first appear. Even though Ramsay complained of Thomson’s ‘illegal’ use of his songs, Johnson notes that some of the songs in Thomson’s first edition were then taken and used by Ramsay in his later volumes of the Tea-Table Miscellany. Johnson concludes that these two collections were created for very different purposes: Ramsay’s to inject a ‘life-blood into the Edinburgh cultural scene’ and Thomson’s as a ‘foreign curiosity for the London public’. It might be argued, however, that both were in fact serving the same ultimate purpose—to bring Scots song to the wider attention of a growing British middle-class public.22 Certainly the wider dissemination of Thomson’s volumes did nothing but benefit the wider knowledge of Ramsay’s songs.

The University of South Carolina’s copy of the little song book has a hand-written comment on one of its prefatory pages: ‘This is thought to be the only perfect copy of the Musick for Allan Ramsay’s Scots Songs—from its small size, and being published in Six Parts, the book soon disappeared from circulation’. However, close comparison with the copy now held in the National Library of Scotland (NLS Inglis 38), which has a pencil annotation of ‘very rare’ on its inside cover, shows that they are identical. Notably, both copies were owned, in the nineteenth century, by significant individuals. The South Carolina copy belonged to the famous antiquarian Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe (1781–1851) and the National Library of Scotland copy was once in the possession of the antiquarian and editor David Laing (1793–1878). The latter was interested in Scots song, being involved with the 1850s edition of James Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum.23 That both of these key individuals had copies of this rare little ‘Musick’ book in their possession would indicate that they recognised not just its importance in Ramsay’s life, but its significance as part of the bigger story of Scottish song tradition.


  1. Frank Kidson, British Music Publishers, Printers and Engravers: London, Provincial Scottish, and Irish from Queen Elizabeth’s Reign to George the Fourth’s, with Select Bibliographical Lists of Musical Works Printed and Published within That Period (London: W. E. Hill & Sons, [1919]), p. 182.
  2. I refer here to the G. Ross Roy Collection of Burnsiana & Scottish Literature, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library at the University of South Carolina. I would like to thank Melanie Buntin at the University of Glasgow for her research assistance, particularly relating to the dedicatees of Ramsay’s music book.
  3. See, for example, Steve Newman, The Scots Songs of‘ Allan Ramsay: “Lyrick” Transformation, Popular Culture, and the Boundaries of the Scottish Enlightenment’, Modern Language Quarterly, 63:3, September 2002 (Seattle: University of Washington), pp. 277–314.
  4. Kidson lists it as being produced c. 1724–5; David Johnson, in his pivotal Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the Eighteenth Century, suggests it was produced c. 1726 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972, p. 114).
  5. See Jennifer Burchell, Polite or Commercial Concerts?: Concert Management and Orchestral Repertoire in Edinburgh, Bath, Oxford, Manchester and Newcastle, 1730–1799 (London: Routledge, 1997).
  6. See David Johnson, Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the Eighteenth Century (London: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp. 34–5.
  7. See Murray Pittock, ‘Allan Ramsay’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  8. Richard Holman, ‘A Little Light on Lorenzo Bocchi: An Italian in Edinburgh and Dublin’, in Music in the British Provinces, 1690–1914, eds. Rachel Cowgill & Peter Holman (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 61–77.
  9. William Gamble, Music Engraving and Printing: Historical and Technical Treatise (Ayer Company Publishers, repr. 1979), p. 60; Kidson, p. 182.
  10. Allan Ramsay, The Tea-Table Miscellany: or, a complete collection of Scots sangs […] (Dublin: E. Smith, 1729), pp. vii–viii.
  11. An online digital edition of the copy of Orpheus Caledonius (c. 1725) housed by the National Library of Scotland is available now at /pageturner.cfm ?id=74463905 (accessed January 2013).
  12. See the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland’s site record for Drum House: /site /53463/details /Edinburgh+gilmerton+the+drum/ (accessed January 2013).
  13. Though not a prolific songwriter, Grisell Baillie forms the subject of the first chapter of Sarah Tytler & J. L. Watson, The Songstresses of Scotland, vol. 1 (London: Virtue & Co., 1871), pp. 1–20.
  14. Lady Grisell Murray, Memoirs of the Lives and Characters of the Right Honourable George Baillie of Jerviswood, and of Lady Grisell Baillie (Edinburgh: J. Pillans, 1824).
  15. See Alexander Pope, Additions to the works of Alexander Pope, Esq. Together with many original poems and letters, of contemporary writers, never before published, 2 vols. (London, 1776), pp. 94–103.
  16. See Murray, Memoirs (1824), p. 156 and p. 158 respectively. The Fifth Appendix in the book is entitled ‘Notices Respecting Lady Murray of Stanhope’. Reference is also given in The Household Book of Lady Grisell Baillie 1692-1733, ed. Robert Scott-Moncrieff (Edinburgh: T & A Constable, 1911), p. xxviii.
  17. In The Works of Allan Ramsay. With Life of the Author by George Chalmers; An essay on his Genius and Writings by Lord Woodhouselee; and an Appendix Relative to his Life and Posthumous Reputation, vol. III (London: A. Fullarton & Co., 1855), p. 276.
  18. This portrait is not listed within the catalogue raisonné of Allan Ramsay’s works. There is, however, a painting of that title that went through Christie’s Auction House as lot 64 on 30 April 2010: /paintings /allan-ramsay-portrait-of-miss-christian-campbell-5309082-details.aspx (accessed January 2013). Further information on Campbell has not yet been located.
  19. The watermarks in the c. 1725 Orpheus Caledonius were checked with those in Edward Heawood’s Watermarks, Mainly of the 17th and Early 18th Centuries (Hilversum, The Netherlands: The Paper Publications Society, 1950).
  20. Fol. 331: 5 January 1725, ‘Will. Thomson The Whole Then Entred [sic] for his Copy Orpheus Caledonius, or a Collection of the best Scotch Songs set to Musick by William Thomson. Recd. Nine Books: Wm. Thomson’. Reel 6 of Stationers’ Hall Archives, NLS Mf.688 (1710–1773). Film No.: 8520.
  21. See Timothy Clayton and Anita McConnell, ‘Richard Cooper’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  22. Johnson, p. 141.
  23. This is now easily accessible in facsimile as The Scots Musical Museum, ed. Donald A. Low (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1991).
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