ROBERT BURNS, 1759-1796

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Island 7: Burns and Scottish Song

Allan Ramsay, 1685-1758 
The tea-table miscellany 
Tenth edition. London: Printed for A. Millar, 1740. 
Contemporary calf, gilt; signature of Mary Watton, 1745.

In his work for Johnson and Thomson, Burns scoured earlier books for songs that he felt should be included in the two works. One of his principal sources was Allan Ramsay's Tea-table miscellany, which had appeared in four volumes between 1723 and 1737. The tenth was the first collected edition of the Miscellany.

Burns Martin 122


William Thomson, ca.1684-ca.1760 
Orpheus caledonius: or, A collection of Scots songs 
London: Printed for the author, 1733. 
Modern brown half calf, marbled boards.

William Thomson's Orpheus caledonius supplied Burns with words and music for several selections. He owned the two-volume set (1725-1733). This copy has a letter from the scholar C.K. Sharpe concerning the work.


James Oswald, ca. 1711-1769 
The Caledonian pocket companion 
7 vols. In one. London: Printed for the author, [?175-]. 
Contemporary mottled calf, rebacked.

One of the sources which Burns used for Scottish airs was James Oswald's Caledonian pocket companion. He wrote to Johnson, "I was so lucky lately as to pick an entire copy of Oswald's Scots Music, & I think I shall make glorious work out of it."


David Herd, 1732-1810 
Ancient and modern Scottish songs, heroic ballads, etc.: collected from memory, tradition and ancient authors 
2 vols. Edinburgh: Printed by John Wotherspoon for James Dickson and Charles Elliot, 1776. 
Contemporary calf.

David Herd, following a not unusual practice of his time, issued Ancient and modern Scots songs in one volume in 1769 and expanded the set to two volumes in 1776.


James Johnson, ca. 1750-1811 
The Scots musical museum 
Edinburgh: Printed & sold by Johnson & co., 1787. 
Contemporary half calf, marbled boards, top cover wanting; signature of Thomas Ruddiman on title-page.

Although Burns included three songs in his 1786 edition, he became seriously involved in writing, collecting and editing Scottish songs in the spring of 1787 when he met James Johnson, who was busy printing and editing The Scots musical museum. The first volume, consisting of one hundred songs, contained only three by Burns, but the next five volumes contained another 174 known to be by Burns; there may be others. In addition he touched up and collected songs taken from the oral tradition, chapbooks and earlier collections. There were several published eighteenth-century Scottish song collections, and Burns wrote words for many of these airs. From the second volume Burns was the de factoeditor of the Museum, although he did not see the fifth volume, published in 1796, some time after the poet's death. Without Burns's enthusiasm it took Johnson until 1803 to issue the final volume of the set. Burns knew how important a work the two of them had produced, and less than a month before his death he wrote to Johnson, "Your Work is a great one . . . I will venture to prophesy, that to future ages your Publication will be the text book & standard of Scottish Song & Music." He was unerring in this judgement. This copy is one of the three first Johnson editions in the Roy Collection. In 1803 when volume six was published, it and the earlier five volumes had completely redesigned title-pages.

Egerer 8


George Thomson, 1757-1851 
A select collection of original Scotish airs 
4 vols. in two. London: Printed and sold by Preston and by G. Thomson, 1793-1818. 
Contemporary half calf, marbled boards.

Despite his involvement with Johnson's Scots musical museum, in September of 1792 Burns agreed to collaborate with George Thomson in another musical undertaking, A select collection of original Scotish airs, which appeared in five volumes between 1793 and 1818. Thomson's collection was aimed at a middle-class audience; it had accompaniments by Ignaz Joseph Pleyel, Johann Anton Kozeluch and eventually Haydn and Beethoven. Thomson fancied himself as both poet and musician, with the result that there were arguments with both Burns and Beethoven; it must be said, however, that in challenging Burns, Thomson forced him to examine his song-writing in a way which Johnson did not do.

Egerer 28, and appendix II


Robert Burns 
The merry muses of Caledonia, a collection of favourite Scots songs ancient and modern selected for the use of the Crochallan Fencibles 
Printed in the year 1799. 
Nineteenth-century tree calf, rehinged.

Although Burns made no secret of his interest in bawdy poetry and song, most editors of his works have sought to hide this from readers. To a friend, Robert Cleghorn, the poet wrote, "there must be some truth in original sin.—My violent propensity to B[aw]dy convinces me of it." Three years after his death a collection that contained six of Burns's erotic poems along with other material was published as The merry muses of Caledonia. From then on the collection was always associated with Burns—although he was the author of but a small portion of the contents—and most subsequent editions bear the words "By Robert Burns," implying that he wrote the entire contents of the volume.

This original edition of The merry muses is of great rarity; only one other copy is known. Though the title-page date is 1799, some sheets are watermarked 1800. When acquired in 1965 the volume included a number of obscene illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson, but as they bore no relationship to the poetry of The merry muses, they were removed and bound separately.

Egerer 51


Robert Burns 
The merry muses, a choice collection of favourite songs gathered from many sources 
London: John Camden Hotten, 1827 [1872].

Because it remained illegal to publish the material in The merry muses until 1964 in the United States and 1965 in Great Britain, publishers resorted to various subterfuges in producing editions. Since it was a more serious offence to publish such a work than it was to sell it, one enterprising dealer, John Camden Hotten, apparently switched the last two digits in the date when he 
produced this edition (1872) and dated it 1827. This idea gave rise to a numerous progeny.

Egerer 311


Robert Burns 
The fornicator's court 
S.l.: s.n., s.d. [?1823]. 
Modern half calf, marbled boards.

The spuriously dated "1827" editions of The merry muses were not the only bawdy verses of Burns to be published. The fornicator's court first appeared c.1810. This edition was probably published in 1823.

Egerer 273, variant issue


Robert Burns 
A unique relic of Burns (circa 1800) 
London: John S. Farmer, 1904. 
Original black half morocco, maroon cloth.

This calligraphic edition of The merry muses was limited to 50 copies. Although the editor, John S. Farmer, claims it to be an exact copy of the edition of 1799, there are, in fact, numerous differences.

 

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