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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

§ 4. Ane Compendious Booke of Godly and Spirituall Songs

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 Blows 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 Scowrers, 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 ’T was 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 some instances where the English broadside may be the original, there is, it must be admitted, a striking superiority in the Scottish version. This is very marked, for example, in The Jolly Beggar and Helen of Kirkconnel; but, occasionally, as in Robin’s Courtship, which is merely a Scottish reading of The Wooing of Robin and Joan—but not, of course, the work of Herd or any co-conspirator of his, as Ebsworth vehemently supposed—there is deterioration; and, indeed, many vulgar Scottish chapbook songs are mere Scottish perversions of English broadsides.