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I do not ask all this gratuitously; for, upon returning health, I hereby promise and engage to furnish
you with five pounds worth of the neatest song genius you have seen. I tried my hand on Rothemurche this morning. The measure is so difficult, that it is impossible to infuse much genius into the lines; they are on the other side. Forgive, forgive me !
Fairest maid on Devon banks,
Crystal Devon, winding Devon,
And smile as thou were wont to do?
Full well thou knowest I love thee dear,
Then come, thou fairest of the fair,
Fairest maid, &c.*
* These verses, and the letter inclosing them, are written in a character that marks the very feeble state of Burns's bodily strength. Mr. Syme is of opinion that he could not have been in any danger of a jail at Dumfries, where certainly he had many firm friends, nor under any such necessity of imploring aid from Edinburgh. But about this time his reason began to be at times unsettled, and the horrors of a jail perpetually haunted his imagination. He died on the 21st of this month.
Mr. THOMSON to Mr. BURNS.
14th July, 1796. MY DEAR SIR,
Ever since I received your melancholy letter by Mrs. Hyslop, I have been ruminating in what manner I could endeavour to alleviate your sufferings. Again and again I thought of a pecuniary offer, but the recollection of one of your letters on this subject, and the fear of offending your independent spirit, checked iny resolution. I thank you heartily therefore for the frankness of your letter of the 12th, and with great pleasure inclose a draft for the very sum I proposed sending. Would I were Chancellor of the Exchequer but for one day, for
Pray, my good Sir, is it not possible for you to muster a volume of poetry? If too much
trouble to you in the present state of your health, some literary friend might be found here, who would select and arrange from your manuscripts, and take upon him the task of Editor. In the mean time it could be advertised to be published by subscription. Do not shun this mode of obtaining the value of your labour: remember Pope published the Iliad by subscription. Think of this, my dear Burns, and do not reckon me intrusive with my advice. You are too well convinced of the respect and friendship I bear you, to impute any thing I say to an unworthy motive. Yours faithfully.
The verses to Rothemurche will answer finely. I am happy to see you can still tune your lyre.
In the beginning of the year 1787, another work had commenced at Edinburgh, entitled, The Scots Musical Museum, conducted by Mr. James Johnson; the object of which was to unite the songs and the music of Scotland in one general collection. The first volume of this work appeared in May, 1787, when our poet was in Edinburgh ; and in it appeared one of his printed songs, to the tune of, Green grow
the rashes, beginning “ There's nought but care on every hand.” He appears also to have furnished from his MSS the last song in that volume, which was an early production, and not thought by himself worthy of a place in his works. The second volume appeared in the spring of 1788, and contained several original songs of Burns; who also contributed liberally to the third, fourth, and fifth volumes, the last of which did not appear till after his death. In his communications to Mr. Johnson, to which his name was not in general affixed, our Bard. was less careful than in his compositions for the greater work of Mr. Thomson. Several of them he never intended to acknowledge, and others, printed in the Museum, were found somewhat altered afterwards
his scripts. In the selection which follows, attention has been paid to the wishes of the author as far as they are known. The printed songs have been compared with the MSS, and the last corrections have been uniformly inserted. The reader will probably think many of the songs which follow, among the finest productions of his muse.