Manuscript songs collected by Robert Burns


The Hastie Manuscript – it is named after Archibald Hastie, who bequeathed it to the British Museum in 1858 – contains 123 of the 193 lyrics which Robert Burns wrote or revised for songs in volumes II–V of The Scots Musical Museum, together with 37 which he supplied but which have not been attributed to him. It includes some of Burns’s best known songs, such as ‘The Banks o’ Doon’ and ‘A red red Rose’. The collection also includes some letters to James Johnson, the editor of the Museum. The texts of the songs in the manuscript are the versions which Burns sent to Johnson for publication, and in many cases are the only known versions of these songs in Burns’s own handwriting. 

How did Burns come to contribute to the collection? 

Burns and Johnson met in Edinburgh in 1787, the year that saw Burns’s sudden rise to national importance; they found they shared a love for old Scottish songs and a desire to see them preserved. Burns contributed about a third of the entire collection, some 200 songs, as well as writing new words to old tunes, and carrying out editorial work on the collection.

What other songs are in the collection? 

Burns collected many old songs, such as and ‘Lord Randal’ and ‘Tam Lin’, while he wrote ‘Scots wha hae’, ‘Ae fond kiss’, ‘Comin’ thro the Rye’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’. There are also a number of songs not in the Scottish dialect. 

Were some of these songs old folk ballads? 

‘Tam Lin’ is a ballad dating from at the latest the mid-16th century. It originated in the Borders area of Scotland, and tells the story of Tam Lin, captured by fairies, who is rescued by the woman who loves him. She is forced to keep hold of him through several transformations, and eventually the Queen of the Fairies relinquishes her hold over him. Though the song first appears in The Complaynt of Scotland (1549) the fact that it survives in multiple versions indicates an oral origin.


                                                                         Vol[ume] II. Song 117.

Highland Lassie O - . Tune, Mc Leachlen’s Scots measure -
                                                . To its own tune -

Nae gentle dames tho’ ne’er sae fair
Shall ^ ever be my Muse's simple Muse’s care;
Their titles a’ are empty show,
Gie me my Highland Lassie, O -
         - Chorus -
Within the glen sae bushy, O,
Aboon the plain sae rashy, O,
I set me down wi’ right gude will
To sing my Highland Lassie, O -

O were yon hills and vallies mine,
Yon palace and yon gardens fine;
The world then the love should know
I bear my Highland Lassie, O -
           Within the glen &c.

But fickle Fortune frowns on me,
And I maun cross the raging sea;
But while my crimson currents flow,
I love my Highland Lassie, O -
          Within the glen &c.

Altho’ thro’ foreign climes I range,
I know her heart will never change;
For her bosom burns with honor’s glow,
My faithful Highland Lassie, O -
          Within the glen &c.

Full title:
Manuscript songs collected by Robert Burns
late 18th century, Scotland
Robert Burns
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