« PreviousContinue »
put and hastily answered are not fit for the public eye. But, if you will transmit to me what you understand to be my notes, I shall tell you whether I still remain of the same opinion; and, with my recollected amendments, you may make what use of them you will.
I suppose you have seen my collection of Ancient Scottish Poems,* with large notes. Mr. Warton did me the honor of inserting a considerable part of the notes into his History of English Poetry ; and unluckily he has made some of my mistakes more conspicuous than if they had continued to lurk in an obscure duodecimo. If I am not mistaken, I once pointed out to Mr. Sibbald, bookseller in Edinburgh, some things which I considered to be errors in your work that you mention. Let me have a copy, on which I might make corrections; and you shall have them on the margin; for I have no leisure to refer to pages and lines.
There is a list of the fashionable Scottish songs in the Life of Sir John Inglis, published by Dr. McKenzie in his lives of Scottish writers. The book to which Dr. M'Kenzie alludes, is exceedingly rare I have seen it, but cannot command it. Inglis wrote in the minority of Queen Mary; and there is scarcely one of those fashionable songs that I can point out as existing at present.
Ancient Scottish Poems, published from the manuscript of George Banantyne, 1568. Edin. 1770. 12mo.
+ M KENZIE, George, M.D. Lives and Characters of the most eminent writers of the Scots Nation. Edin. 1708-11-22. 3 vols. fol.
This and many other circumstances lead me to suspect that many songs that are called old with us, are comparatively modern. We must always, in such inquiries, suppose that the English language was, at any given time, more perfect in England than with us; and, consequently, if we find the English language more advanced in a Scottish poem than in an English of the same era, that the Scottish is a forgery. Any poem under the name of James I. must be tried by this criterion. King James I. was in education an Englishman; but his language must have been the language of Henry V. of England: language and metre more polished than in the days of Henry V. cannot be his.
DR. BEATTIE TO MR. PINKERTON.
Aberdeen, Feb. 3rd, 1783.
My very infirm state of health, and a great variety of indispensable business, must be my excuse for not sooner acknowledging the receipt of your obliging letter, and of your elegant volume of Scotch Tragic Ballads. I am happy to hear that these have succeeded so well as to encourage another edition, with a second volume of Comic Ballads. You do me much honor in the preface, by quoting with so flattering a compliment my account of the pibroch, for which please to accept of my best thanks.
If I could contribute any thing to your second
volume, you might freely command me. have never seen any comic ballads in the Scotch dialect, but those which may be met with in every collection; and I never attempted to write any thing in that way.
My new Dissertations are in the press; and about one fifth part of the volume is printed. The bookseller thinks they will be ready for publication in the spring. It will be a quarto book of about 650 pages.
I heartily wish you success in all your literary labors.*
It is impossible to say what were the literary labors here particularly referred to, Mr. Pinkerton's mind and hand were always so full of objects of this description; but it is probable he alluded to a new edition of Chaucer, which it appears, from the following letter to Mr. John Nichols, that he about this time meditated.
Knightsbridge, Oct. 3rd, 1783.
'You know well that there was no edition of Cowley for fifty years, till your friend, Dr. Hurd, published his select works, which have passed through four editions already. I hope the like success would attend the select works of Geoffrey Chaucer, and submit this to you, that you may consider if it is worth your while to try. Lose you cannot, in my opinion; for every purchaser of Johnson's Poets would buy the book, to complete their sets; and I am much mistaken, if the work would not be very popular, and your gain very considerable; but you are the only judge.
My love of Chaucer has induced me to dwell on the subject con amore; and I doubt not but you will ponder well ere you pronounce on a design so important to English literature and antiquity, of which you are no mean proficient.' Nichols' Illustrations of Literature, Vol. v. p. 674.
MR. PINKERTON TO LORD HAILES.
June 10th, 1783.
I must beg leave to embrace this opportunity of returning your lordship my best thanks for your two last letters, and for the trouble you have therein taken of communicating to me your remarks upon the first volume of my little publication. Your lordship will see, from the second edition now almost completed, how I have profited by them. Some of these observations I must, however, dissent from, and beg leave to submit my reasons.
Your lordship observes that the song, "I wish I were where Helen lyes," is all modern but the first line. Had your lordship said the three first lines, you would have been right. The song beginning with the two lines your lordship mentions,† cannot be that to the melancholy tune of this name; as that runs to the sexain stanza used in the song I have published, repeating the second
The second of these letters, dated May, 20th, I have not printed; as it is little more than a long list of observations upon Mr. Pinkerton's work, the nature and substance of the most important of which will be sufficiently evident from this letter.
Lord Hailes song
in his letter," the tune is very sweet, the story exceedingly melancholy; but I doubt much whether it can be recovered: the lady whom I have heard sing it died many years ago."
and the fifth line, as your lordship may see from Ramsay's Collection, in which is a song to the tune of "I wish I were where Helen lyes."
The question of Rymer's Prophecies I shall not enter upon; but shall abide by my first opinion, influenced chiefly by the Saxon rhythm in which they are written, and which no Scotsman of later time would have dreamt of imitating. I have read all your lordship's works as they appeared, but differed from your sentiments on this head in your Remarks on the History of Scotland.
Your lordship will perceive that the notion of McPherson being the elected chief of the Clan Chattan does not rest with me, but with my authority, Mr. Buchanan, whom your lordship will no doubt allow a better judge of clanish matters than either your lordship or me.
Why should the song of Flodden Field be more ancient than the reformation of religion in Scotland? If it is so old, it is certainly no chicken. Your lordship's observation, that I know not the tune of the ballad, is strange; as my emendations leave the same syllables they found.
How can your lordship assert that my censure of the king's style in the Dæmonologie Ms. is too severe? Did your lordship ever see this Ms.?
Your lordship observes, in the last place, that the additions to Hardyknute are modern, because no writer near the feudal times could show himself so ignorant of the form of their castles &c. as the author seems to be. Permit me to inform your lordship, that some of the first antiquaries in England are of a very different opinion, and have asserted the antiquity of the whole poem as pub