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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XIV. Scottish Popular Poetry before Burns

§ 21. Jacobite Songs in Hogg’s Jacobite Relics of Scotland; Hogg’s editorial methods

For Jacobite songs, the main published authority is still James Hogg’s Jacobite Relics of Scotland, 1819–21, a work as to which it would be hard to decide whether its merits or its defects are the more intrinsic characteristic. On its preparation, he evidently bestowed immense labour, and he had the co-operation of many enthusiasts, including Scott, in supplying him with copies both in broadsides and manuscript. Indeed, he tells us that he obtained so many copies—of the same ballad and, also, of different ballads—that he actually “grew terrified” when he “heard of a MS. volume of Jacobite songs.” His critical notes are, sometimes, inimitable, as, for example, this on Perfidious Britain:

  • I do not always understand what the bard means, but as he seems to have been an ingenious, though passionate writer, I took it for granted that he knew perfectly well himself what he would have been at, so I have not altered a word in the manuscript, which is in the handwriting of an amanuensis of Mr. Scott’s, the most incorrect transcriber, perhaps, that ever tried the business;
  • or the following on My Laddie:
  • This is rather a good song, I am sure the bard who composed it thought it so, and believed that he had produced some of the most sublime verses that had ever been sung from the days of Homer.
  • The notes also contain much information conveyed in the sprightly and irresponsible manner of which Hogg was a master. Yet, though a diligent, more than clever and, after a fashion, even learned, editor, he is hardly an ideal one. He cannot be trusted; he lacks balance; he has little method; and he allows himself to become the sport of temporary moods, while quite careless in regard to his sources and authorities. As to the actual genuineness of many of the songs, we may judge from his own statement: “I have in no instance puzzled myself in deciding which reading in each song is the most genuine and original, but have constantly taken the one that I thought best”; and this must be further modified by the statement: “I have not always taken the best, but the best verses of each.” In fact, Hogg edited the Jacobite Relics very much after the fashion in which Scott had edited The Border Minstrelsy; and he confesses that, in some instances, he had practically rewritten the song. While, also, he expresses his intention to include only the Jacobite songs which were of Scottish origin, this was a rule which, from the nature of the case, he could not absolutely observe; and, in fact, he broke it whenever he had a mind to do so. Thus, he observes as to The Devil o’er Stirling:
  • This ballad appears from its style to be of English original: the air is decidedly so, but as I got it among a Scots gentleman’s MSS and found that it had merit, I did not choose to exclude it on bare suspicion of its illegality.
  • Of another, Freedom’s Farewell—surely English—he gravely says, without a word about its nativity, that he inserted it, “on account of its stupendous absurdity”; and various others, as to his authority for which he tells us nothing, he could hardly have believed to be of Scottish authorship. Further, while his avowed intention was to include only contemporary Jacobite songs, many to which he gave admission were of later origin. In some instances, he did so owing to imperfect information. He could not know, for example, that Ye Jacobites by Name, which he got from Johnson’s Museum, was largely the work of Burns. But he was not particular in his inquiries. Thus, of It was a’ for our Rightfu’ King—which, as he did not know, was partly an arrangement by Burns from non-Jacobite verses, with a suggestion from a semi-Jacobite Maly Stewart—he is content to write: “This song is traditionally said to have been written by a Captain Ogilvy related to the house of Inverquharity”; though the tradition could not possibly have been of long standing, and, from the exceptional excellence of the song, was, in itself, very unlikely. Then, he gives us Charlie is my Darling from The Museum as “original.” This is so far excusable, in that he did not know any other original, and that it was a “vamp” by Burns; but it was a mistaken, though shrewd, shot at a venture. O’er the Water to Charlie, which is mainly by Burns, he inserted with an additional stanza, doubtless lured, as in the former case, by the excellence of the song. No early printed version of it, in the form in which it appears in The Museum, is known to exist, though Hogg, who possessed a copy of the rare True Loyalist of 1779, must have known of the two versions in it which have the Museum chorus; but he remarks: “I do not know if the last two stanzas have been printed though they have often been sung.” One of the stanzas must have often been sung, having appeared in The Museum with the preceding stanzas—about which he says nothing; the other, we must suppose, had never been sung by anyone but Hogg himself, except in the modified form in which it was included in an old traditional non-Jacobite ballad, whence, it would seem, Hogg, consciously or unconsciously, had transferred it. Of Killiecrankie, he says: “It is given in Johnson’s Museum, as an old song, with alterations”; but an additional verse and chorus, of the source of which he tells us nothing, are included in his own version, and, presumably, were written by himself. Similarly, he tells us that he copied Carle an’ the King come from as certain MS.; but it is identical with the song sent by Burns to Johnson’s Museum, except for two additional stanzas, by no means harmonising with the older in style. Of Cock up your Bonnet, he tells us that there are various sets and that Johnson has left out whatever might be misconstrued; but, evidently, the first part in Johnson was an adaptation by Burns, and Hogg says nothing as to his authority for his additions. In an appendix, he prints The Chevalier’s Lament, and Strathallan’s Lament, simply dubbing them “modern,” though he ought to have known that they were by Burns; but, of There ’ll Never be Peace till Jamie comes Hame, though he inserted it, he remarks, with admirable discernment: “It is very like Burns,” and of The Lovely Lass of Inverness he says: “Who can doubt that it is by Burns?” but he could not resist inserting it. Further, he printed The wee, wee German Lairdie, to a tune of his own, without any suspicion that the song was modern and by Allan Cunningham. He states that he copied it from Cromek, all but three lines taken from an older collection; but why he should copy from Cromek when he had an older collection he does not explain, and the “collection” must be taken cum grano salis; but, though he also includes The Waes of Scotland, Lochmaben Gate and Hame, Hame, Hame from Cromek, he shrewdly remarks in his note to the last: “Sore do I suspect that we are obliged to the same master’s hand” (Cunningham’s) “for it and the two preceding ones.” Of The Sun rises Bright in France, he says: “I got some stanzas from Surtees of Mainsforth, but those printed are from Cromek.” He was wise in not accepting the stanzas from Surtees; not so wise in inserting those from Cromek; but perfectly correct in his remark: “It is uncertain to what period the song refers”; and he showed a return to discernment when he wrote of The Old Man’s Lament—which, however, he inserted—“It is very like what my friend Allan Cunninghame might write at a venture.” Last, to name no more, his remark on Will he no come back again, which is by Lady Nairn, is merely: “This song was never published till of late years.”

    Apart from Hogg’s translations from the Gaelic, and pieces by known authors, few of either the Scottish or of the English Jacobite songs possess much merit. Awa Whigs Awa is, however, picturesquely vigorous, and the various diatribes on king “Geordie” are not lacking in rude wit. The Whigs of Fife—which county was notable for its anti-Jacobitism—is characterised by an inordinate strain of abusive vituperation: and The Piper o’ Dundee abounds in rollicking gaiety. Wha wadna fecht for Charlie has spirit and fire; and The Battle of Falkirk Muir makes clever, if rather rough, fun of general Hawley. Of the more serious, the best, perhaps, is the unpretending Bonnie Charlie, beginning:

  • Tho’ my fireside, it be but sma’
  • And bare and comfortless witha’.